By: Janie Cai
You’ve brainstormed, outlined, and started a draft. You might have even visited the Writing Center or your professor’s office hours. But it’s the first, second, third, whatever day of looking at this Word document, and it’s not getting any longer. What’s going on? Why can’t I write? Why can’t the words just come out onto the page? You don’t have to be a professional author to get writer’s block. Everyone gets it – seriously, everyone does. But how do we get around it, over it, or at least pry ourselves out of it for a little bit?
Turn Your Computer Off
And do something else. If you start getting frustrated with yourself or your writing, just stop for a second! Take a deep breath, save your work, and do or think about something else. If you’re not terribly strapped for time, go on a walk, work out, talk to a friend, get started on a different assignment or project — do whatever that’s not writing that for a few hours, even a day. If your essay happens to be due that day or the next, then take a slightly smaller break — you could go to the bathroom or fill up your water bottle, or take a lap around the library, or call a loved one, or just exit out of the document so that it’s not filling up your entire screen.
Once you’ve cleared your mind for some amount of time, go back to the document and see if you can start a new thought or finish that sentence. If the answer is no, don’t stress! You might need to try something else first, or take another break.
Talk It Out
One of the reasons why we might have writer’s block is simply because we don’t know what to write. Or if you do know what you’re trying to say, then you might not be able to express it the way that you want — “How can I get across this to the reader in the way that I want to?” you might be asking yourself.
If this is the case, try just saying out loud – to a friend, yourself, your TA, a Writing Center consultant — what you want to say or what you want to do next. You might take ten sentences to say something that you want to write in one or two, but that’s okay! What’s your idea, your next point?
A great strategy here would be to record yourself or have someone else take notes – you don’t want to forget your “Eureka!” moment.
Write on Something Else, Write Differently
Similar to talking it out, writing on something else or in a different way can be a helpful way to get your thoughts out without the stress of writing formally. Sometimes, if you’ve been writing on the same document for a while – and that’s the document you plan on turning in eventually – you might feel stressed out – this is what I’m turning in; it has to be perfect! In this case, it can be helpful to write in a different environment. This could include:
- Writing in the same document but with a different font or font size
- Printing the document out and writing by hand on the pages thereafter
- Writing in a new document
- Writing by hand in a notebook or on a separate piece of paper
- Writing in incomplete sentences, short phrases
- Whatever works for you – as long as it’s not what you were already doing
If you’re not sure how to start (the whole assignment, a new paragraph, a new thought), go back to your outline. What did I want to write? Is it still possible to write that? If you don’t have an outline, do that – there are Writing Resources on this site to help you with precisely that.
If your outline doesn’t help you at this point, then look at what you’ve already written. How would I proceed from there? What’s the next logical thought? Make sure to trust your gut here — what was your first reaction? Why did I think that?
Make Yourself Write
This tip might be the hardest to execute, but it can bring about some great results. Force yourself to write for a period of time. It could be ten, twenty, thirty minutes — just make yourself write! You don’t have to write a certain number of words, and it doesn’t have to be “good” or the final product — you just want to have something on the page by the end of this period. If you’re worried that you’ll set the timer and still not write, have someone hold you accountable. Get a friend or someone at the Writing Center to sit with you.
Even if you don’t like what you wrote just now, you got something on the page, and that’s a huge accomplishment! If you don’t like it, ask yourself why? What might work better? How can I edit it to make it better? If you do, then great – keep going; you could even set another timer.