According to writing expert Mike Rose (2006), writer’s block can be defined as: “the inability to begin or continue writing for reasons other than a lack of basic skill or commitment” (p. 3). He continues by stating that writer’s block can be measured by intervals in which writers unsuccessfully attempt to put something on paper while experiencing little or no meaningful engagement whatsoever. Just about every writer has suffered from writer’s block at one time or another, but especially as deadlines draw closer, it is helpful to have some strategies to overcome writer’s block. Writer’s block can be broken up into two main categories: motivation/distraction or writing anxiety. Within these two main categories are subcategories and strategies for overcoming these challenges.
- Finding a lack of inspiration or motivation to begin
- Trouble articulating your own ideas
- Indecision between different directions the paper can take
- Uncertainty about the argument of the paper
- Internal and external distractions
Strategies for Motivation and Distraction
Getting Something on the Page
- Do not wait for “inspiration” to arrive. Most great writers and composers agree that purposeful thinking and planning is a must.
- Since planning and purposeful thinking is needed, check out our prewriting strategy handouts to think of more ideas through freewriting, or organize the existing ones through listing, thought mapping/webbing, or outlining.
- Reread articles used in your research to engross yourself in the conversation. You might even find a new angle worthy of exploration with a second reading.
- Open up a Word document and do the formatting for your paper in the proper style (MLA, APA, etc.). Just the act of opening it up and doing something with the blank page may spur you to begin writing.
- When you think you have hit the wall violently, take a breather. Go out for fresh air, switch gears and come back to it later, or the following day. Sometimes you might just be under the weather, tired, or wired from a past activity. Just as computers need to reset in order to function properly again, your brain might need a rest as well.
- Talk to your teacher or a writing tutor for more insight; they might be able to help you find the right direction.
- Identify areas of distraction. Are you distracted by noises? Your roommate? Social media? Find a workspace that allows you to get away from these distractions. Study somewhere else and power off social media to help you focus.
- Listening to music that’s instrumental rather than lyrical helps limit distractions and can promote motivation.
- Fear of sounding too “simple”
- Feeling like everything written isn’t good enough to submit for a grade
- Fear of failure
- Feeling like your ideas are “unoriginal” or “uninspired”.
Strategies for Writing Anxiety
Before you Write…
- At the end of the day, writing anxiety is just that—anxiety brought on by the idea of writing. Before you start writing, do something that calms you. Whether it’s listening to calming music, meditating, deep breathing, or drinking some tea, take a couple minutes (not a couple hours) to mentally relax.
- Tidy up your workspace! A clean, tidy work place can also have a calming effect. If cleaning is too much of a project for your deadline, try a new quiet place to work.
- Establish a ritual to get yourself used to writing. For example, some people listen to a particular song or drink a specific drink to get them in the mind set to work. Making those mental cues will help train your brain to focus when it’s time to write.
While you Write Remember…
- Take small steps when it comes to writing. You can start by writing out the main ideas first and then gradually filling in paragraphs with more information.
- A first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. The first draft is a chance for you to explore and flesh out your ideas.
- Writing skills take time and practice to establish. Nobody began as a perfect writer, and this is a time meant for you to grow and learn new skills. As hard as it is, try and be patient as these skills build over time.
- A failed idea in writing isn’t a failure—it’s an opportunity for you to explore and discover something new.
Reward yourself with something small when you’ve finished a particular task. For example, you can reward yourself with a piece of chocolate for each paragraph you complete. Keep in mind, the reward has to be something small so that you’re not away from your writing too long. Watching an episode of TV could end up turning your reward into a harmful distraction. A reward is meant to help you feel good about working—it should not be a crutch to avoid work.
You are Not Alone
You are not the first to experience this, and you’re certainly not the last. Consider talking to other writers who have experienced similar feelings—they might have some ideas we don’t have on this handout!
With these strategies, you will be prepared to fend off writer’s block the next time around.
Remember: Be proactive to help yourself conquer your writer’s block.
Rose, M. (2006). Writer’s block: The cognitive dimension. Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press.