Have you ever received a writing assignment and felt “frozen”? Have you known you need to write but gotten stuck staring at a blank screen? You’re not alone—everyone has experienced writer’s block, from John Steinbeck to J.K. Rowling to leading scholars in many fields. Fortunately, there are techniques for overcoming writer’s block that will help you submit that term paper or finish your dissertation.
Causes of Writer’s Block: One of the most commonly held beliefs about writer’s block is that it’s a sign of laziness or lack of preparation. Nothing could be further from the truth;
writer’s block often affects students who have high expectations for themselves. According to Keith Hjortshoj, author of Understanding Writing Blocks (2001), it is very common in people making transitions and adjusting to new writing formats. This category includes first-year college students, new graduate students, undergraduates moving to more advanced levels of study, and writers completing high-stakes projects.
Strategies for Moving Past Blocks
1. Free Writing: One of the biggest things you can do to combat writer’s block is freewriting. Freewriting means you sit down and write what comes to mind about your topic without stopping to read what you’ve written. Simply keep going—nobody will see your writing yet, and you will have a chance to revise later. Freewriting will allow you to write and think more fluidly, help you process information, and get text onto the page that you can shape into your finished product. Many students find it useful to brainstorm by writing what comes to mind in the form of a list or diagram. You might even find that you can generate text by pretending you’re writing about your topic in an email to a friend.
2. Free Form: Don’t feel like you have to write from the beginning of your paper to the end; you can choose the section you’re most confident with and start there. Bracket things you’d like to change and come back to them during revision.
3. Writing Groups: Lastly, avoid isolation with the task of writing. Seek out connections with other writers, whether they’re in your class or fellow graduate students in the grad student center.
Analyzing Your Writer’s Block: Here are some of the questions that Hjortshoj recommends for better understanding your writer’s block:
- What kind of writing are you trying to do?
- At what point does progress end?
- What do you do up to that point?
- When you reach it, what do you do next, and why?
Note the answers to these questions, determine the changes you need to make and ask which strategies will help you write through the block. You may have to try several strategies before finding one that works, just like you might in a science experiment. Deliberately keep yourself from doing things that you suspect are causing your writer’s block. No matter what, don’t give up! For more support and strategies for writing, come to Weingarten!
Staff writer: Brenna Swift