Friday, April 30, 2010

Writer's Block

Understand that writing is not like mathematics. You won’t be able to sit down, figure the problem out, and move on with your day. It is a process that can take days and even weeks to complete (depending on the class and the assignment). Most importantly, allow yourself plenty of time to spend on writing your paper. Keep track of when it’s due, and begin as early as you possibly can. The more breaks you take, the less likely it is that you will miss a mistake and the better your paper will be. Tackling writer’s block is a skill that is also worth your time and effort. Telling yourself that you still have a week to do it (and ultimately not taking the time to work through your writer’s block) will result in last minute cramming and probably not a very good essay.



1. One of the most common causes of writer’s block is the lack of knowledge about the topic that you have been assigned. The first step to deal with this issue is to do some research! Even if the assignment is not to write a research paper, doing research and reading about the topic that you are writing about will help give you confidence to write a clear and informative essay.

I don’t know much about insects. If I were assigned an essay in my biology class about the life of ants, I would have a major case of writer’s block. It would be necessary for me to learn about them and their everyday activities in order for me to even know what to begin writing. So, if your problem is unfamiliarity of the assigned topic, visit Google (or your preferred search engine) and spend a few minutes learning about it. Take notes while you’re reading, and then use those notes as an outline for your essay. You can then decide what is worth mentioning and what parts of your research are irrelevant to the paper.



2. Read someone else’s paper on the same topic. Sometimes reading the views of someone else will help you understand how you feel about a certain issue (whether you agree or disagree). Talking to a friend or family member can also be a great way to grab ideas for your writing. Sometimes it’s easy to think of things in a conversational form rather than with pen and paper. The most important thing to remember is not to copy anyone else’s work. If you consult another paper for ideas, come up with your own original paper to submit in class. Plagiarism is never tolerable.



3. Another possible cure to writer’s block is to detach your mind from the format of the paper. Sometimes it is best to just begin writing, without worrying about spelling, grammar, and punctuation. After your thoughts are down on paper, you can go back and correct your mistakes. It is much easier to proofread a paper that is too long (because you can omit words or phrases that don’t make sense) than to try to come up with a perfect, logical essay on the first try.

Most likely, when you begin writing, ideas will flow one after another. It is best to write them down as soon as they come to you (even if you are in the middle of sentence) because by the time you finish the sentence you may forget the new idea that you wanted to add.



4. Make short-term goals for yourself to help you get the paper finished, especially if it is on a subject that doesn’t necessarily strike your interest. We, as students, will inevitably be assigned writing assignments that aren’t particularly exciting for us. Of course, you will have to write papers in subjects which interest you, but writer’s block will play more of a role in classes that don’t excite you. Unfortunately, you will still be required to turn something in to be graded.

When boredom is the cause of your writer’s block, setting goals can help you overcome the lack of motivation. We often will set time out of our day to begin writing the paper, and then tell ourselves that we have to do something else before we want to start writing. After making a sandwich, calling a friend, and updating our Facebook statuses, we end up wasting an hour or two and ultimately aren’t productive at all. Instead of immediately becoming distracted, make a personal goal to finish three or four paragraphs (or even one page) of work before you let yourself leave the area. Even if it isn’t the best thing you’ve ever written, at least you will have something accomplished when you return to finish the paper. Basically, you want to limit all possible distractions, so you should reward yourself after you write a certain amount of paragraphs with 30 minutes of doing something that you enjoy.



Writing should be a growing skill for you. There is no right or wrong way to write a paper; there are only guidelines to help you write effectively. It is certainly possible to sit down at your computer, type a paper, and have it finished when you stand up two hours later. However, if you want an essay that makes sense, is free of grammatical mistakes, and will be more likely to get a good grade, then you need to spend more than one sitting on writing it. Try one or more of these techniques the next time you have writer’s block and see if they make the writing process a little easier for you!

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