I don’t know of a single person who hasn’t fought writer’s block at one time or another. And as an experienced writing tutor in New York City, I’ve seen the best strategies and the worst in the fight for momentum during essay writing.
Whether the piece is for college applications, history homework, or the SAT or GRE writing sections, the most crucial thing to remember is to keep moving. Below, I’ve collected a few of the tips that I like to give to my students. Any one of them should help you to compose essays more fluidly, but I know that when I’m having trouble getting started, I sometimes use a few of them in conjunction with each other.
Give yourself a time limit
Across the board, this is one of the most useful tools for getting yourself into gear when starting a new writing project. It’s never more difficult to motivate yourself to do something than it is when you have no serious deadline to work against. If your big research paper is due in a month, tell your tutor, or even a writing partner, that you’ll have a draft to them in two weeks. If your three-page response is due tomorrow, set a repeating timer for thirty minutes, and be sure you have a page for each time the clock runs down. Not only will these self-imposed deadlines light a fire under you to put pen to paper, they’ll also help you to stay on top of your assignments. With the extra time to spare from your own deadlines, you’ll actually have the opportunity to edit and proofread well ahead of the actual due date.
Make use of apps for brainstorming and first drafts
There are so many apps and websites available to help you start new writing projects and to polish existing ones. My favorite, and the one I recommend to the writing students I tutor online and in New York, is Write or Die. It has plenty of settings with different time limits, word goals, and consequences, but the point is always the same – to keep you unselfconscious and writing continuously. Explore it for yourself and remember to save the editing for later!
Treat writing like note taking
Or note organization – half the time when I begin a new writing project, the first step is simply to organize the notes I already have. This is a no-pressure, unselfconscious way to start the creation process and can quickly generate a body of writing for you to be proud of. The next step can be to turn notes into complete sentences. Later you can add transitions and smooth your grammar. At the end, it’s time to polish style and usage, and suddenly you’ve written an essay without any of the anxiety!