It’s easy to struggle with writer’s block.
Think about something too long – or even research too long and you can overwhelm yourself to the point where you don’t know what to write.
Or you end up deleting every thought that you type because you’re not happy with how it sounds.
You’re becoming like the golfer who chokes on the green by missing an easy put – or the basketball player that is missing all the free throws.
The problem is that you’re feeling a lot of pressure to write a great essay.
Perhaps it’s the first essay you’re writing for a certain professor – or the final essay that makes a big impact on your grade.
Whatever the situation, it has nothing to do with you’re writing ability.
You can write – it’s just a matter of getting over this anxiety.
I’ve been there, too and want to share five strategies to help you get over this “writer’s block” quickly:
1. Step away from the computer.
One way to get some ideas and reduce anxiety for your paper is simply to walk away from your computer for a bit. Take a break from all your research to let it all sink in. Do something fun – or read something that you enjoy. I love to read humor books to help me reduce anxiety – books by David Sedaris, David Rackoff, or Mark Twain.
Do something that will allow your brain to rest from all the work you’re doing. Do some relaxing for an hour to get your mind off your paper – or do some exercise. Just do something to get your mind off your paper.
2. Break-up your paper into little segments.
To reduce your anxiety, turn your big paper into little projects. For example, if you have to write a 10 page paper by next week – turn it into 5 small writing assignments to help you get through it. Just thinking about writing a big paper in small chunks can psychologically help you get through it better. You might plan on just writing one argument per day – or simply writing a rough outline one day. Break it up in a way that makes sense to you – or try using my four-step approach to writing a research paper.
We all write differently and there isn’t one strategy that works for everyone. That said, dividing up big paper into small chunks is a good mental strategy that can help you immensely. If you’re reading this and need to get a paper done right away, here is a step-by-step guide to get a great paper done in one night.
3. Record yourself talking about your research when you’re not writing your paper.
Most of our mobile phones have a voice memo app. A great way to capture ideas or to think through something is to record your verbal thoughts. I’ve done this to capture ideas for articles that I’m writing. It’s a great tool to help you capture thoughts without writing anything. Freely talking about your paper (and recording those thoughts) is a great way to hack your brain into writing your essay.
When recording your voice, talk as if you’re speaking to a friend about your paper. Talk about: what you’re reading, what’s interesting, what’s challenging, questions you have, arguments you’re developing, thoughts on your thesis. It might be strange at first – but I promise you this method works to help you get a paper done. Spend 15 minutes every morning doing this while you’re writing your paper and you’ll have a boatload of ideas and new paragraphs to write. Or spend 15 minutes talking about your paper after you’re done writing to capture any last minute thoughts before you go to bed. Try this, and let me know how this goes for you.
4. Don’t strive for a perfect paper when beginning to write.
One of the biggest problems that stops us from writing is wanting every sentence to be perfect – and every argument to be ground breaking. Unfortunately, writing a great paper requires a lot of editing. Nobody can churn out a perfect paper without doing a lot of editing, deleting, and moving sentences and paragraphs around.
Think of a perfect paper like a photoshopped image of a person on a magazine cover. The picture has had a lot of editing to get everything looking perfect. The lighting, contrast, removing blemishes, smoothing, adding filters, etc. It can take dozens of hours to get a picture just right – not to mention the number of people involved (photographer, director at the photo shoot, make-up people, lighting director, photo editors, magazine art director, etc). The same is true for perfect papers – it takes editing time and often other people involved to critique arguments and make suggestions.
So don’t expect perfection on your first go. Just start writing out the bones of your paper. Write out your arguments, some meaty paragraphs, your introduction, fragments of thoughts for future paragraphs. Just start writing and don’t worry about how it sounds right now.
5. Start writing something.
Stop deleting everything you’re typing and just keep writing.
You just need to start getting in the habit of getting words on your screen. If you’d rather handwrite on a notebook, then do it. The goal is getting words down – no matter how choppy or fragmented your sentences. Once you begin writing words down, you’ll start to see thoughts and paragraphs forming. I
t’s okay to have disjointed and random thoughts initially. Just start writing down all the thoughts you have. You can organize, delete and group ideas into arguments later. It might help to give yourself a specific writing task to help you start writing. For example, you could give yourself a task to write down all your thoughts about a certain line from Shakespeare – or all your thoughts about a specific argument in a journal you’ve read.
The point is to start writing some aspect of your paper. Don’t delete anything (unless you’re just fixing a typo) during your free writing. Just write until you’ve exhausted all your thoughts. This is a surefire way to get you to break through your “writer’s block.”
What has helped you start writing? What as helped you beat writer’s block? Let me know in the comments.