Even when students choose to write on a topic that interests them, they may still experience the frustration of writer’s block. They may deal with the frustration by spending too much time researching and then run out of time when it comes to writing and revising their work. As instructors with advanced degrees, we’ve written more papers than we care to count. It’s easy to forget that our students are still neophytes when it comes to academic writing. What can we do to help students complete their writing assignments more effectively?

Reasons for writer’s block

Some people are procrastinators by nature, believing that they work best under the pressure of a deadline. Others don’t understand the assignment thoroughly and spend too much time working in the wrong direction. Still, others have difficulty writing because they have not clearly defined what it is they want to say while others feel that they have so much to say that they can’t get it organized and onto the page.

We can help our students by encouraging them to set realistic goals for themselves, reminding them to give themselves credit for what they do accomplish, and helping them to identify any self-defeating thinking.

Most of all we need to direct our students to the resources that will help them to structure their workflow and the tools that will help them work smarter.

Ideas to banish writer’s block

The Doyle Online Writing Lab at Reed College in Portland, Oregon trains its tutors to help students who are plagued with writer’s block.

Their list of tips for helping students included:

  • Break down the assignment into manageable steps
  • Practice free writing for 15 minutes at a time
  • Set up a daily schedule of tasks
  • Work with writing tutors to cluster ideas in order to create a thesis statement and outline

Students may also benefit from joining or forming a support group of fellow students. This can be especially helpful for students who are working on a master’s thesis or doctorate dissertation.

Essentials of writing

In his textbook, The Essentials of Writing: Ten Core Concepts, 2nd Edition, Robert P. Yagelski brings the act of writing to life by explaining the three essential aims of writing (analysis, argument, and narrative) and then offering applied assignment chapters that use the ten core concepts to guide students’ thinking and writing.

Supplements to the text include access to MindTap® English, a digital learning solution that allows instructors to personalize the learning path, customize the interactive eBook, and track student progress.

Yagelski’s passion for writing comes through in his description of writing as a journey that leads to learning and insight.

He suggested that as writers students should keep the following in mind:

  • Approach every writing task with curiosity, and be open to unexpected possibilities
  • Be patient and willing to work through several drafts
  • Don’t try for perfection in rough drafts
  • Allow yourself sufficient time to write

As a practice lesson, Yagelski suggested that students keep an informal journal as they work through their next piece of writing and describe what they did as they progressed through the assignment. He added that the journal could include questions and problems that arose and how they dealt with them, how they felt about their progress on the assignment, and what revelations they experienced upon reading their final work. (pp. 27-28)

Reference: Yagelski, Robert P. 2018. The Essentials of Writing: Ten Core Concepts, 2nd Edition Cengage, Stamford, CT

What strategies have you used to help your students to overcome writer’s block? Tell us in the comments.