How to Start Writing Your Essay When Youre Struggling with Writers Block

Its easy to struggle with writers block.

Think about something too long or even research too long and you can overwhelm yourself to the point where you dont know what to write.

Or you end up deleting every thought that you type because youre not happy with how it sounds.

Youre 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 youre feeling a lot of pressure to write a great essay.

Perhaps its the first essay youre 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 youre writing ability.

You can write its just a matter of getting over this anxiety.

Ive been there, too and want to share five strategies to help you get over this writers 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 youre 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 isnt 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 youre 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 youre 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. Ive done this to capture ideas for articles that Im writing. Its 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 youre speaking to a friend about your paper. Talk about: what youre reading, whats interesting, whats challenging, questions you have, arguments youre 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 youre writing your paper and youll have a boatload of ideas and new paragraphs to write. Or spend 15 minutes talking about your paper after youre 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. Dont 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 dont 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 dont worry about how it sounds right now.

5. Start writing something.
Stop deleting everything youre typing and just keep writing.

You just need to start getting in the habit of getting words on your screen. If youd 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, youll start to see thoughts and paragraphs forming. I

ts 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 youve read.

The point is to start writing some aspect of your paper. Dont delete anything (unless youre just fixing a typo) during your free writing. Just write until youve exhausted all your thoughts. This is a surefire way to get you to break through your writers block.

What has helped you start writing? What as helped you beat writers block? Let me know in the comments.

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Five Tips for Writing a Successful Thesis Statement

Maxine Rodburg and the tutors of the writing center at Harvard developed a great article about constructing thesis statements.

Heres what they suggest:

1. A thesis is never a question. Readers of academic essays expect to have questions discussed, explored, or even answered. A question (Why did communism collapse in Eastern Europe?) is not an argument, and without an argument, a thesis is dead in the water.

2. A thesis is never a list. For political, economic, social and cultural reasons, communism collapsed in Eastern Europe does a good job of telegraphing the reader what to expect in the essay—a section about political reasons, a section about economic reasons, a section about social reasons, and a section about cultural reasons. However, political, economic, social and cultural reasons are pretty much the only possible reasons why communism could collapse. This sentence lacks tension and doesnt advance an argument. Everyone knows that politics, economics, and culture are important.

3. A thesis should never be vague, combative or confrontational.
An ineffective thesis would be, Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because communism is evil. This is hard to argue (evil from whose perspective? what does evil mean?) and it is likely to mark you as moralistic and judgmental rather than rational and thorough. It also may spark a defensive reaction from readers sympathetic to communism. If readers strongly disagree with you right off the bat, they may stop reading.

4. An effective thesis has a definable, arguable claim. While cultural forces contributed to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, the disintegration of economies played the key role in driving its decline is an effective thesis sentence that telegraphs, so that the reader expects the essay to have a section about cultural forces and another about the disintegration of economies. This thesis makes a definite, arguable claim: that the disintegration of economies played a more important role than cultural forces in defeating communism in Eastern Europe. The reader would react to this statement by thinking, Perhaps what the author says is true, but I am not convinced. I want to read further to see how the author argues this claim.

5. A thesis should be as clear and specific as possible. Avoid overused, general terms and abstractions. For example, Communism collapsed in Eastern Europe because of the ruling elites inability to address the economic concerns of the people is more powerful than Communism collapsed due to societal discontent.
Continue reading how to construct a thesis statement . . .

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The Best APA Cheat Sheets on the Web

So it’s like 3 a.m. and you’re trying to finish your paper. You’re almost done, but you forgot where you left your APA Style Guide. No worries. We have some online APA style guide cheat sheets that you can use right now:

APA Formatting Tips from Purdue
Purdue University offers a comprehensive review of everything you need to know about APA style. This website offers not only great instruction, but also helpful pictures to demonstrate how to use the various APA rules.

APA Research Style Crib Sheet Project
This website archives a bunch of handy APA rules that you should definitely check out. It provides an excellent summary of how to format and write your title page, references, and abbreviations.

APA Online Tips
The official APA website doesn’t provide very many free tips because they want you to buy the book from them. However, they do offer some free tips on APA word usage and hyphens.

APA Citation Help
How do you cite multiple authors again? Or what about citing televisions shows or interviews? This website answers all those common questions.

APA Style Essentials
This might be one of our favorite APA sites. Its written and maintained by a professor of psychology. He not only lists all the major APA rules, but he includes a downloadable pdf to show you exactly how to do it. Very useful.

If you find any other handy APA cheat sheets on the web, please send us an email or leave a comment here. We’ll add it to the list.

Top 7 Websites to Visit Prior to Writing Your Research Paper

You know writing a research paper can be a tedious process.

Not only do you have to spend a lot of time writing, but you also need to spend many hours finding and reading appropriate journal articles and books.

To make your life a bit easier, here are the top seven websites you should visit when starting your research paper. You might be surprised how much you can learn about your topic without even going to a college library:

Wikipedia is always a good place to start when beginning initial research. The articles will usually provide you with a good summary of the topic you’re interested in. And the external links sections might give you some other links to consider. Check the discussion pages for further investigation.

Internet Public Library
The Internet Public Library will provide you with a host of quality websites about the topic you’re interested in. This is definitely a great resource for finding books and articles about your chosen topic.

Google News Search
Depending on what type of research you’re doing, Google News Search might be appropriate. Google News archives newspaper articles. All you need to do is type in a word and newspaper articles using that word will appear in chronological order. It’s very handy when looking for current news about your topic.

Microsoft Book Search
If you’re looking for a book in the public domain, check out this book search. You can search every word in a book, and even download entire books as a pdf. It’s a great resource for finding relevant content in older books.

Google Book Search
If you can’t find a particular book in Microsoft Book Search, definitely check out Google Book Search. You can search for current books in Google, but you’ll only get a limited preview. Google Books will also provide full downloads of older books (in public domain).

Virtual Library
Virtual library is a place that hosts tons of links on various topics. It’s easy to get lost in this website because of the amount of information available. It’s not as user-friendly as the Internet Public Library, but it does provide great links.

Google Scholar
As you get more focused on your topic, don’t forget to search in Google Scholar. This website will extract articles from academic journals. It’s a great resource for finding high quality articles on your topic. Many of the links might only give you an abstract (or summary) of what’s in the articles, but you can save the reference information and find the journals at your local college library.

No doubt there are many articles and journals that you cant access without student identificaiton, so if you run into roadblocks on articles you really need, visit your local public or college library. Libraries typically have access to passwor protected research sites..

And if you still have problems getting a particular journal article or book, just ask for help from a college librarian or research associate. It’s their job to know how to find and get information, and they will probably have some great recommendations.

Best wishes on your research.