6 tips for overcoming writer’s block

academics College writer's block writing
By Karina

It’s all happened to us—you get a writing prompt or essay assignment, but once faced with the blank page of a document, great ideas vanish like rats fleeing a sinking ship. Watching the cursor blink, writing anxiety and procrastination set in. A week later you’re clicking submit at 11:59 PM. You waited until the last minute to hammer out a text, you’re exhausted and dejected, but what else could you do? 

This scenario describes many of my writing experiences in college, and while I braved it, I can assure you there are more humane ways of responding to writer’s block. 

Give it (a set amount of) time

Your brain isn’t ChatGPT. If you open a document and the prose doesn’t start flowing immediately, cut yourself some slack. Set a timer for 15 minutes, during which you aren’t allowed to do anything except think and wait for the words to come. Faced with boredom, usually inspiration will appear by your side. 

Write a bad draft

For many, the hurdle may not be a lack of ideas but that the bar for the first draft has been set too high. Go ahead and write the most terrible, garbage draft you can imagine. It may make you cringe, but you’ll also likely find the sprouts of a good argument emerging from the word dump.

Gather the evidence

Early in the writing process, stuckness can indicate a lack of material or evidence to work with. Expository writing requires some form of evidence to develop an argument and build paragraphs around. If you’re writing a personal statement, have you considered in detail what personal, academic, or professional experiences you want to illustrate? Or, for an academic paper, have you gathered sufficient evidence about which you can write? 

Narrow your topic

What if you have your evidence, but still don’t know what to do with it? You may need to narrow the topic and make the argument more specific. Focusing in on key pieces of evidence rather than large swaths of information will give your argument the precision it needs, and get the paper moving.

Find a model

Sometimes writer’s block isn’t about the what but the how. If you’re befuddled by style or other formal expectations, you may need a model for the kind of writing you’re attempting. Search online for examples of essays or personal statements—try to find those as close to your field as possible—or, in the case of more specialized forms of writing, ask an instructor, mentor, or a senior student for an example of similar writing. 

Take a meaningful break

Our brains and bodies get tired of sitting at desks all day! If you’ve been working for a couple of hours already, and the writing is dwindling or just isn’t happening, take a meaningful break. This doesn’t mean scrolling social media, answering emails, texting people or attending to other chores. Instead, take a walk, pet the dog, or even take a nap. Our brains burn calories too, so consider a snack if you’re feeling hungry. If it’s evening, you might just need a good night’s sleep and to return to the project the next day.

In the end, writing is a learning experience. By taking notes on what does and doesn’t work for you, you can discover a method that produces effective writing—and even allows you to enjoy the process itself.

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