Because of fatigue, indecision, uncertainty about your project, or some other reason, you may occasionally experience the feeling commonly known as “writer’s block.” You’re stuck in one spot, and don’t know how to proceed.
When you feel stale or listless, a fresh perspective can often help you begin anew, with creative ideas that propel your project forward. If you’re looking for a few ideas that can get you moving, we have a few to share.
Ready to get “unblocked”? Let’s get started!
Four helpful strategies for overcoming writer’s block
In their book Writing True: The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction, Second Edition, authors Sondra Perl and Mimi Schwartz list a number of ideas for starting off a new writing project, several of which we’ve summarized below. They suggest that these tips are helpful for writing creative nonfiction, but you might find them useful for any writing situation. You might try:
- Writing freely, on any topic, for at least fifteen minutes. Focus on getting your thoughts on paper, rather than your writing style, logical flow, or any spelling or grammatical errors that you think you’ve made. (Freeing yourself from your “inner editor” may be just the thing you need for a fresh start on your writing project.)
- Using a line from a book, journal article, or magazine as a starting point for a personal writing exercise. As you write, continue to concentrate on the flow of your own ideas, rather than what you think you should be writing about at this time. (However, you may want to note the source of your starting sentence, in case it does become a true jumping-off point for your paper!)
- Stepping outside in the early morning or evening for a walk, remaining attentive to the sights, smells, and sounds around you. Take a journal and pencil with you to note any thoughts or observations that come to you.
- Keeping a notebook dedicated to excerpts and quotations that you find insightful, informative, or inspiring. When it’s time to embark on a new project, but aren’t quite sure of how to begin, you can use this notebook as a reference and reminder of the ideas that you’ve found intriguing in the past. (Perl and Schwartz, 30-31).
Help your students overcome writer’s block
Just as you face writer’s block from time to time, your students do as well. Because of this, they may procrastinate on their assignments, not knowing how to kickstart the writing process.
Would you like to help them? If you’ve launched a writing assignment in your course, mention to students that writer’s block is a fairly common, but not insurmountable, occurrence. Assure them that, with persistence, they can overcome that challenge and confidently enter into the writing and research process.
You might also encourage your students to talk over a variety of strategies with one another. In fact, you might want to lead them through a brief period of discussion devoted to the topic of “overcoming writer’s block.” Or, you could add similar questions to a section of your course’s online discussion board, and keep it open as a place where students can exchange ideas. Post your own suggestions, and keep a rolling list of student-suggested strategies that you can pass along from term to term.
Need a starting point? In Think About It: Critical Skills for Academic Writing, authors John Mauk, Jayme Stayer, and Karen Mauk provide several discussion questions that prompt students to discuss their experiences with writer’s block and share their own strategies for overcoming writer’s block. You may wish to adapt these questions to the particular needs of your course or the assignment:
…[Discuss] experiences you’ve had with writer’s block. What did you do to overcome it? What specific strategies did you use to start writing? Which of these strategies could you pull forward to a current situation you’re experiencing? (Mauk et al., 182)
What are your own strategies for overcoming writer’s block? Share them in the comments.
Mauk, John, Jayme Stayer, and Karen Mauk. 2014. Think About It: Critical Skills for Academic Writing. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Perl, Sondra and Mimi Schwartz. 2014. Writing True: The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction, , 2nd ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.