9 Tips to Deal with Writer’s Block
Writing is essential in the academic world. We already discussed the issue of publish or perish, where to publish, and what language to publish your work in. But what if you are stuck and just can’t get anything on paper? Have you been staring endlessly at that blank page in front of you, trying to come up with that first sentence? Well, you’re not alone. It happens to all writers, from the most experienced to newbies and also to those outside of academia including journalists and novelists. In this blog post we provide 8 tips and tricks to help you get passed it.
Why does it happen?
A common misconception is that writer’s block comes from a lack of ideas or talent. That’s simply not true. Writer’s block can be caused by a number of other things, depending on the individual. Research has shown that self-doubt is one of the main factors that causes writer’s block. A trigger could be anxiety. Some writers worry that they aren’t good enough or don’t want their work to be compared to that of others, resulting in a fear of writing anything at all. If this is the case, you’re suffering from the imposter syndrome. This is a common theme among our podcast guests, worth listening to if you’d like to learn more about the syndrome.
Other triggers include feelings of constrain by the rules of writing (especially in academic writing) and a burnout. Humans are not build to run at full capacity all the time. Exhaustion has an effect on your writing abilities.
Getting passed a writer’s block
While writer’s block is caused by different triggers, there are also a few steps you could try to help you overcome the block. Which one works depends on the individual, so try a few to see what helps you personally.
#1 Take a break
Though obvious, taking a break could make all the difference. If the writer’s block is caused by exhaustion, the only thing that will really help is taking a nap. Or simply walk away from your desk and do something else for a while. This includes doing the laundry or going for a walk. It might sound like procrastination, but it is important to take a break in order to be able to return to your work with a fresh eye.
#2 Jump ahead
You don’t necessarily have to start writing the first paragraph or introduction. Try writing smaller pieces for the project that are on your mind right at the moment. Even if you don’t know yet where exactly it will fit into the overall product, it is important to keep going. A lot of problems are solved by doing – just write. You’re also not wasting time by jumping ahead as it was a task you were eventually going to get to anyway.
#3 Go back
In contrast to jumping ahead, going back to the beginning might work for you. Read the work you’ve done so far once again from the very beginning. Going over it could make you notice where it is you’ve gone off track or suddenly see how you should logically continue.
#4 Create a deadline
Some only work efficiently when they are faced with a deadline. Setting a deadline for yourself creates time pressure which could lead to help you focus. In addition, a deadline forces you to make decisions that you would otherwise be avoiding, also giving you that push passed the writer’s block.
When you’re not sure of how to continue the writing, try to visualize. Move your laptop to the side and turn to graphs or diagrams that relate to what it is you’d like to write down. Or take some post-it notes and make yourself a scheme on the desk. Or simply start writing with pen and paper. Visualizing could help you look at your work in a different way and open up creative thinking that helps write everything down when you’re back at your computer.
Freewriting is writing without pausing – don’t worry about sentence structure or grammar. Just write without thinking it over. While most of it will not be useable, it’s a good way to push through the writer’s block. Free writing works best with a pen(cil) and paper - just write. You can even start by writing “I have no idea what to write about” and simply write about the point of struggle you have encountered. Slowly your writing block with disappear and you will get into progressive writing that will take you forward.
#7 Ideal writing space
Find out what your ideal writing space is. Does your phone distract you during writing? Maybe you should ban your phone from the room. Does listening to background music help to get into a flow, or does it do the opposite? Also think about the light and your chair. Try some different things to see what works for you.
#8 Talk about it
Academic writing is usually considered a solo-task, but that does not mean that you shouldn't use your cohort. You might find that talking about your research, about your paper, and especially about your points of struggle, will help you to better conceptualize the way to move forward. By talking about it, you might find the words that you are looking for to break that writer’s block you have. Talking about it doesn’t have to be only with your cohort or peers. Sometimes talking to your friend, partner or even your pet can be useful as well.
#9 Join a writing group
Lastly, you could consider joining a writing group that meets regularly to read, discuss and give constructive feedback to the work of the group members. In addition to valuable feedback, the meetings could provide you with a deadline (you’ll probably have to mention what it is you’ve done since the last meeting), and members with more writing experience can give you insights and help you get on with the work. In the long run, a regular writing group can make you a better writer.
Another form of writing groups are more silent ones. These are groups that mainly create a writing atmosphere. When you are among people who sit and write you get into a “writing mode”. Nowadays, and especially since Covid-19 lockdowns, there are many virtual writing groups available. Many of them are free of charge. You just log in, with or without a camera, and get into an atmosphere of writing.
Don’t expect yourself to be able to sit down a full day and write and write and write. You need to be focused and dedicated, but also require small breaks and so does your mind. Plan your day: schedule writing hours, and include planned breaks and other activities. Use for example the Pomodoro Technique which provides a “work/breaks” schedule. Many working groups use that technique as well, so if you join one, you will get notified when it is time to work and when is it time to go and get a coffee/tea/hot chocolate.
What helps you overcome writer’s block? Do you have more tips on how to overcome one? Let us know in the comments below and connect with us on social media.