Anyone who has ever put a pen to paper or laid their fingers on a keyboard has probably experienced writer’s block.
You’re at your desk, trying your best to produce something worthwhile, but writer’s block sits like a giant pink elephant looming over your shoulder. What can you do? How can you beat the block? The first step to beating the block is admitting that you have a problem.
So you’ve cleaned your room, washed the dishes, mowed the lawn, color coded your books, organized your sock drawer, swept the ceiling, and counted all the coffee beans in the kitchen, but you still haven’t started on that paper. A fear of starting may paralyze many writers, causing endless procrastination and re-prioritizing of mundane tasks.
Maybe you’re just sitting at your desk, staring deeply into the pristine white of a blank page. Try as you might, each word you write is erased in frustration. It never feels quite right, or you can’t pick the perfect sentence to get your masterpiece started. When will this writer’s block end? How could anyone ever write anything? It seems almost impossible…
Sometimes, even if you have managed to put some words to paper, you might feel like you should never show it to anyone. “I can’t publish this" you may rationalize to yourself, “it needs more work or everyone will know what a charlatan I’ve been all these years!" You keep all your writing to yourself because you think “this isn’t finished yet!"
You’ve dug up troves of information on your topic, but somehow you get that feeling that there’s so much more to know. You pore over endless dusty tomes and erudite journals, seeking the crown jewel of information that will make your paper perfect. You think to yourself “how could I start writing now, when there is so much left to be done?"
If you’re trying to find the perfect word, or write a flawless sentence, you may be sitting at your desk for some time. Often writers are paralyzed by a pursuit of perfection, and can’t move forward with their work. Obsessing over creating something without any errors won’t get your paper written.
As the adage goes, we are our own worst critics. A common mistake by writers is being too critical of their own work, without consulting peers or friendly editors. Staying in your own head and judging your work too harshly is a ticket to a block party. A writer’s block party.
Similar to self-criticism, isolation can cause a writer to be too “close" to her topic. Working by yourself without the input of others can cause a skewed vision of what you are trying to write. Isolation robs the writer of the valuable benefit of peer input.
Try taking a look at something you wrote that you are proud of. Reading over work that you have published in the past can help instill confidence in yourself and your abilities. You may find inspiration on how to begin your new topic, or you may appreciate a certain phrase or tone. It’s OK to toot your own horn sometimes, especially if it helps get the ball rolling.
Sitting in front of a blank page with the intention of writing the next great American novel seems like a herculean effort. That’s because it is. Unless you’re Jack Kerouac banging out a novel on a three-week drug fueled writing bender, you’re gonna need a road map (pun intended). Set realistic goals that you can meet over the course of completing your work. Working from an outline or setting reachable page numbers can help you break down a big task into lots of little ones.
If you give yourself a deadline to work towards, it can help you get motivated. Try setting a date to go over a draft of you work with a peer or a professor. Showing up empty handed isn’t an option, so you’ll have to get something done before that deadline. Be realistic! Don’t expect to finish your treatise by next week.
Write about something. Write about anything. Write about the last time you released a helium balloon into the atmosphere, or about what you would do if you were the emperor of Mars. Getting your creative juices flowing is a good way to get started, even if you are writing an academic paper. Try some stream of consciousness, or just free-write for five minutes. Writer’s block affects all writers, and any writer who denies it is lying to herself. Sometimes just getting started can be the hardest part.