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Writing a Paper: Writer's Block

Overview

Writing is a process, not a singular event. It is rarely an automatic occurrence, and requires diligence, creativity, and practice. If you feel lost in the process of research, take a look at our strategies for critical reading and note taking. If you are stuck, here are tips for helping you put words onto the page.

Prepare

Before you begin writing, take 20 minutes to construct a thesis statement with some of our prewriting strategies. Taking the time to prepare will give you direction and focus. A blank page does not mean that you are searching for the right word or words to begin your essay; it often means that you have no plan. As a scholarly writer, you should show up to your paper or computer full of information you have found in your research. Your goal is to compile a wide and deep knowledge base from which your own ideas will flow.

Find a Suitable Environment

Perhaps your home is too comfortable (and you want to fall asleep every time you sit in that chair with your laptop), or perhaps the coffee shop is too noisy. Find an environment that suits your writing needs and habits, or get out of the house just to get a new perspective. Sometimes a change in scenery is just what you need to evoke some new ideas and unblock the pathway between your brain and your keyboard.

Just Begin

No APA rule says you must begin writing at the introduction. If you have some great information for the body of your paper, start writing there. If you can visualize how the paper should end, begin with the conclusion. Remember that you are not working with stone tablets. You can also always go back and change, delete, or revise what you have written. At the very least, you can keep the process moving. Simply writing might even help in putting a few of your great ideas on the page.

Turn Off Your Internal Editor

Try not to edit yourself while you write, and avoid becoming caught up in the way your paper sounds or how many grammatical errors you may be making. If you find yourself reading and rereading your draft, stop, take a breath, and move on. Keep your eye on the bigger picture (the essay as a whole). You can always address issues of precision during the revision process!

Write Nonstop for a Set Period

Find a timer or stopwatch, and set it for 1 minute. Then, like a sprinter, type or hand-write nonstop until the time is up. Even if you type the letter A over and over again, you are still typing something! You are still defeating the blank page. Next, set the timer for 2 minutes, then 5, and repeat the process, with 1-minute breaks in between. Soon enough, you will be surprised by what you see on the page!

Set Realistic Goals

Sometimes the blank pages in front of you can be incredibly intimidating—especially if you know that you are required to fill 25 of them. Rather than tackling the entire paper in one sitting, set goals for yourself. Setting goals will help you to work at a reasonable pace and form the paper in increments and pieces. Set time goals, such as these:

  • I will freewrite for 5 minutes.
  • I will work on the body paragraphs for 2 hours today.
  • I will complete my outline by Friday.
  • I will finalize my thesis statement by 3 p.m. today.

Hold yourself accountable to your goals.

Step Away

Giving yourself a break (whether for 10 minutes, an hour, a day or two) will help clear your mind and make your words appear fresh on the page. Some ideas need time to develop without conscious thought—not all time spent away from the computer is unproductive time!

Change Perspective

Bounce ideas off classmates, friends, or family members. Ask general questions to people who are familiar with your topic. What seems important to them? What background, terms, or other ideas will they need to know in order to understand your message? Do they disagree with your argument or the points you make? If so, why?

Summarize your own work. In the margins of your paper (or using comment bubbles), write a one-sentence summary of the purpose of each paragraph. Review your summaries to get a clearer idea of your direction, the overall flow of the paper, and how far you still need to go.

Take another look. Ask yourself a few questions: Is this information necessary? Does it add to my argument? What message am I trying to convey? Are these ideas contributing to that message? What ideas could I be missing? When in doubt, read more on your topic—it is never a bad idea to go back to your sources and expand your knowledge when you are trying to work your way out of writer’s block.

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