T-21 hours, 33 minutes, 4 seconds, and counting. You’ve officially shifted into panic mode because your paper is due tomorrow, and so far all you’ve written is your name. We’ve all been there, crippled by writer’s block and unable to compose a single coherent sentence.
Most of us have probably tried to get rid of our writer’s block with everything from stepping away, to listening to music, or going for a walk in hopes of grand inspiration.
But what do you do if all you have to show for your eight-mile walk is sore feet and a blinking cursor mocking your still-present writer’s block?
If you feel like you’re going nowhere fast, it’s time to try something new.
First… How Not to Get Rid of Writer’s Block
Before I tell you what you should do to get rid of writer’s block, I want to give you a quick heads up on what you definitely should not do.
First, don’t procrastinate or make excuses.
You know the excuses I’m talking about. You have to update your Facebook status, you need to clean the dust bunnies from under your bed, or maybe you need to throw out three weeks of takeout that’s been accumulating in your fridge. Okay, maybe you should do all of those things, but you shouldn’t use them as a reason to avoid writing.
Second, don’t sit there complaining or whining. Complaining gets you nowhere and won’t help writer’s block. Period.
And third, don’t simply wait around to be inspired. Yeah, you might get inspired sooner or later, but your essay is due in a few days. You probably don’t have time to wait for your muse. Plus, most professional writers will tell you that inspiration most often comes when you’re actually sitting down at your computer and writing.
So instead of hoping for inspiration, check out these four things you can do now to move past writer’s block.
4 Proven Ways to Keep Writer’s Block from Ruining Your Essay
Writer’s block can be an absolute nightmare. I get that. And if you’re in desperate need to write a paper for class, writer’s block might not only ruin your essay, but it also has the potential to ruin your grade in the class.
No one wants writer’s block. So sit down. Take a deep breath. And let’s get to work.
These four tips even include advice from professional writers about overcoming writer’s block. You might want to listen to them. After all, they write for a living, so they probably know a thing or two about the subject!
#1 Work it out in your head (or just talk about your topic)
It’s hard to start writing if you don’t know what you want to say or don’t know a lot about your subject. Follow Emerson’s advice, and allow some time to think about your ideas. (Yes, this means starting your paper at least a few days before it’s due!)
Don’t think you have time to just sit around and think? Think again!
If you have to take the bus downtown, instead of checking out Instagram posts, think about how you’ll focus your ideas.
If you’re feeding your goldfish, tell him about your paper. He’d be happy to listen, and you’ll be surprised at how talking about the topic helps you work out ideas.
#2 Get over the idea of perfection on the first try (or even the second or third try)
Margaret Atwood highlights a great point. I don’t know about you, but I’ve sometimes spent far too long staring at one sentence trying to get the perfect phrase in place.
And while I do finally get something written, it means that I’ve wasted a heck of a lot of time on that one sentence and still have pages left to write.
This happens to most of us. We get stuck because we don’t know exactly what we want to say or because we don’t really know enough about our topic. Or sometimes we stare at a screen, trying for perfection on the first try.
I understand that your grade is on the line and you need perfection to get that “A,” but it’s not likely going to happen on the first draft.
Don’t believe me or even Margaret Atwood? Here’s what Octavia Butler has to say about it:
“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”
In short, don’t worry about getting it right on the first try. Just start writing. You can (and should) always revise.
#3 Turn a big task into small steps
It’s easy to get writer’s block when you have an 8- to 10-page research paper staring you in the face. With such a seemingly insurmountable task before you, it can be overwhelming. I can see why doing nothing can seem like the better option.
In order to get over writer’s block, follow Mark Twain’s advice: start by breaking the writing assignment into smaller tasks.
It’s kind of like one of those TV stands you buy at a big-box store. When you open up the carton and see giant piles of wood veneer and tiny bags of screws, hinges, and camlocks, you immediately second-guess your ability (and desire) to put together such a mess.
But if you follow the instructions step-by-step, suddenly (and by suddenly, I mean five hours later), you have a beautiful new TV stand.
Putting together a TV stand is a lot like writing—both take time and plenty of patience.
Check out How to Write a Research Paper: A Step-by-Step Guide to see how breaking down a research paper into smaller steps can help you write a successful paper.
#4 Write something
Maya Angelou’s advice makes sense. If you want to write something, you need to start writing… something. It may not be your best work. It may amount to prewriting rather than drafting, but that’s okay.
The goal is not to write the perfect essay in one long session.
The goal is to get over writer’s block and get writing. Eventually, the ideas will come, and you’ll begin to shape your words into a finished draft. Sometimes it can help to see how other students have tackled a similar essay.
If your case of writer’s block has been so severe that you’ve already wasted too much time doing nothing, read How to Write an Essay Fast and Well to help you get started.
And if you’re still finding it difficult to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyword), try to identify why you’re experiencing writer’s block.
A Final Piece of Advice
You need to remember this last piece of advice to get over writer’s block and to write well. You’re not going to write the perfect paper in one draft (not even if you prewrite, outline, and draft).
(Need help with the revision process? Read How to Revise an Essay and Make It Better Than Ever and Why Eliminating Wordiness Is So Important for Your Essay.)
Listen to Roald Dahl. Anyone who wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has to have good writing advice, right?
With that in mind, once you’ve overcome writer’s block and have a complete draft, let one of our expert Kibin editors help revise your writing into the masterpiece it deserves to be!