Andrew Messer, Writing Consultant
Have you ever stared at a blank page for ten, twenty, or thirty minutes, the desire or need to write clawing in your head desperate to get out onto the page but you just can’t write it down? You can’t formulate or articulate the ideas in your head onto a page, typing away at your keyboard and then erasing the paragraph you wrote for some reason that you may or may not have made up? Me too: in fact, I’d wager that if you came to the University Writing Center at any given time of any given day of any given year and worked with any consultant that has ever worked there, they would have had the same problem. Even sitting here typing away at my screen I worry about it. Will my ideas flow? Will they make sense? Is this even worth writing? It is. I promise it is, and it goes away.
There is no magical way to get rid of it either, or if it is I am waiting just as patiently as the next person to be told what it is; however, I promise it is surmountable. And while there is no magic cure-all of sage, lavender, and bitterroot, I believe there are some strategies that I have developed over the years that have proven to be quite helpful in overcoming this small compositionary plague. So, if you have a minute or two, read on and I’ll impart to you my wisdoms.
Charlie mentioned this in their last blog post on self-care, and I want to mention it here because I think it is an excellent piece of advice: step away, take a break. Even if you’ve just sat down to write, sometimes what the brain needs is just some time away. Go for a walk, take a nap (who cares if you woke up three hours ago), get a snack (or a meal if you haven’t already), or just do something that makes you happy. Mood and emotions are pivotal in how one goes about their writing process, and if you feel the weight of stress bearing down upon your shoulders while you stare blankly at the white rectangle on the word processor, then you likely won’t feel like writing. At least, if you’re like me, you won’t even feel like you can.
You can’t overlook the power of a solid break. It can be long or short, and that may very well be for you to feel out in the moment. But your brain is good at telling you what you need to do, and sometimes writer’s block is simply a way for your brain to tell you to step back, take a breather, and come back again once you feel more refreshed and invigorated. I know from personal experience how much more comfortable I feel working when I have done something for myself just before.
It may sound deceptively simple, but I promise you it can work wonders. It can be helpful to take a break from your screen when you’re trying to write and you find yourself stuck, but when you do it might not always be the best idea to turn your attention to another—though there is something to be said for watching a show to calm down if you are panicking. However, I find that when I can’t quite put words to my thoughts, reading really turns the cogs in my brain much faster than any other stimuli.
And when I say read, I don’t have anything particular in mind. Sometimes rereading your sources can be helpful and can help you to materialize your thoughts; sometimes you need a break from the assignment altogether and you may feel yourself drawn to the novel you are reading. Either way it will get you away from the page and give you some much needed space from the intellectual work that is required of you—yes, that includes staring at a blank page trying to force your thoughts onto the page like you were technopath. And even if you haven’t started writing yet, this can be a helpful strategy to loosen up some thoughts and warm your brain up to the writing process even before the writer’s block has hit you.
Ask for Help
It’s never easy to admit that you need help, but sometimes it’s just what you need to get your ideas rolling. For me, I always like to have someone look over a draft that I am working on before I finish it. Even for this blog post, I asked someone I trust to look it over before I finished it! In my own experience writing can sometimes get stuck when I’m in the middle of working my way through it, so I highly recommend to get a second opinion when this feels like the case.
I promise this wasn’t just a way of making this a signpost for the University Writing Center, but it is an incredibly useful service chock full of excellent people who know the struggles of writing and writer’s block and can empathize with your own struggles. So, if you’ve thrown the kitchen sink at the problem and the page remains as blank as ever, try throwing the shower drain too and come see us. We’d love to help see you through it!