Brain Block When Writing Essays

Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.
–Charles Bukowski

It happens to every writer. It’s inevitable. Your prose has turned to mush, you don’t have a creative bone left in your body, and you want to throw in the towel.

Writer’s block. Every writer struggles with it. But what you do with it is what really matters. Before we talk about solutions, though, let’s talk about the problem.

Common causes of writer’s block

The reasons for your block may vary, but some common ones include:

  • Timing: It’s simply not the right time to write. Your ideas may need to stew a little longer before writing them down.
  • Fear: Many writers struggle with being afraid, with putting their ideas (and themselves) out there for everyone to see and critique. Fear is a major reason some writers never become writers.
  • Perfectionism: You want everything to be just right before you ever put pen to paper or touch a keyboard. You try to get it perfect in your head and never do, so you never begin. To help you through this, we created Don’t Hit Publish. It’s a free tool that tells you if your blog post is good enough to publish and also give you tips on how to improve it.

So how do we vanquish this enemy?

It’s a tough question to answer, and I’m afraid I don’t have a great solution. I’ve personally wrestled with writer’s block on many occasions, and each victory looked different.

That’s the thing about writing: it’s an art, not a science. And you’ll have to approach it as such. There is no formulaic fix, no “7 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer Now.”

Well, except one. But you already know what it is: Start hacking away. Begin trying stuff. Sometimes, the quirkier, the better. The trick is find something that works for you.

Creative solutions to writer’s block

Here are a few ideas to help you work through your creative constipation:

  • Go for a walk.
  • Eliminate distractions (I use Ommwriter to focus on just writing).
  • Do something to get your blood flowing. (I like running.)
  • Play. (My personal preference is LEGOS.)
  • Change your environment.
  • Read a book.
  • Freewrite.
  • Listen to music (try classical or jazz to mix it up).
  • Brew some coffee (my personal favorite).
  • Create a routine. Many famous writers have daily routines to summon the Muse.
  • Spend time with someone who makes you feel good.
  • Call an old friend.
  • Brainstorm ideas in bullet points.
  • Read some inspiring quotes to get you started.

The possibilities are endless, but movement is critical. You need to generate momentum to get out of your funk.

Once you start heading in a direction, it’s easier to pick up speed. And before you know it, your block will be a distant memory and you’ll be doing what you once thought impossible. You’ll be writing.

How to not overcome writer’s block

And just for fun, here are some anti-solutions to this problem:

  • You do not overcome writer’s block by refusing to write until you feel “inspired.”
  • You do not overcome writer’s block by wallowing in self-pity.
  • You do not overcome writer’s block by procrastinating or making excuses.
  • You do not overcome writer’s block by watching TV.
  • You do not overcome writer’s block by reading articles on how to overcome writer’s block. (Kinda shot myself in the foot there, huh?)

The fail-proof solution

If you’re still not satisfied, you have one last resort, an ace up your sleeve. The silver bullet solution. The fail-proof way to overcome writer’s block is one you already know. In fact, you’ve been avoiding it this whole time, because it’s precisely what you don’t want to hear.

You overcome writer’s block by writing. (Tweet)

Start somewhere, anywhere. Write a few lines. Say anything. And see what happens. Don’t think about it too much or make any fancy announcements. Just write. It doesn’t need to be eloquent or presentable; it just needs to be written..

Write for the joy of writing. Because you can’t not do it. Don’t try to say or produce anything; just get some words on paper, now. No excuses or justifications.

You can write. Don’t make it harder than it has to be. Just type a few words. They don’t have to be good (all first drafts suck). It just has to be written. Then you have something to work it. You can tweak from there.

If you do this, you’ll get past the hump. I promise. The difference between professional writers and amateurs is this: Both encounter blocks, but one pushes through while the other gets paralyzed.

You can do this. Just write.

(One caveat: This technique only works if you’re truly blocked and not “empty,” which is an entirely different matter altogether.)

If you need some help getting started with a daily writing habit, I encourage you to join my 31-day writing challenge. It’s free! Click here to get started.

How do you overcome writer’s block? Share in the comments.

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The setting is your office. You’re bathed in the dull glow of your computer screen, staring at a blank page in Word, trying to write a paper.

Blink.

Blink.

The cursor is watching you, mocking you, laughing at your inability to get words out.

Blink.

Blink.

Your mind locks up as you wonder “what do I have to say?” The more you try to force out words, the harder it becomes, and eventually the frustration leads to you sitting there, at your desk with your head in your hands, wondering how you’ll ever finish.

Blink.

You then Google “how to overcome writers block” and end up on this post.

Writer’s block is a tough thing to deal with, but one we’ll all have to tackle at some point – either at the start of our training while we’re writing outlines and proposals, at the end when we’re writing up manuscripts and theses, or afterwards, as we’re working on papers and other documents. As science communicators, the toughest part is often figuring out exactly how to begin, and how to frame the core message that we want to get across – a process that can be incredibly frustrating. So the question becomes, how do you deal with it?

Now, I’m going to state the obvious here, but it’s a necessary point: The hardest part of writing is starting to write. Once you start though, it becomes infinitely easier to get content out onto the page. To help you kick start your writing process, I’m going to give you a few tips, and as always, I’d love to hear what you do to overcome writers block when it hits in the comments.

1) Isolate yourself. Remove all distractions – phone, coworkers, cats, get rid of it all. You want to be able to focus exclusively on writing. The fact is that if you have an easy out, you’re more likely to take it, i.e. “I’m stuck, I wonder if anything has changed on Facebook in the past 3 minutes? And this Buzzfeed article seems great, and look at what this cat is doing…” It’s tough to start writing, and removing distractions means you’ll struggle through those tough parts rather than put it off and do something else. You need to power through this part.

2) Talk it out. This one sounds strange, but is one of my favourites and has been hugely effective for me. Occasionally, I’ll close my office door, stand up, and pretend I’m giving a talk about whatever it is I’m writing about. Now only does this get you thinking about the topic at hand, but without the intimidation of the cursor and blank word document staring at you, it is easier to just get your ideas out. Be organic: stand up, pace back and forth, talk like you normally would, and don’t focus on the minutia of your project. Talk about the broad strokes and the flow of your arguments, and see if they helps you over the initial hurdle.

Alternative: Grab a coworker, go for coffee, and outline your paper/idea to them. Tell them their job is not to have a conversation with you – their job is to ask questions and prod you when you get stuck, and help you jump start your writing. Obviously, you owe them coffee/donut(s) for listening to you 🙂

3) Write an outline. For those who don’t like talking things out, this is an effective alternative. Sketch down the key points you want to make in each paragraph, and write as much information about each paragraph as you can without losing momentum. Even if you do talk it out, this is a good way to conceptualize your work. By the end, you should have something like this:

Paragraph 1: Open with a scene about writers block
Paragraph 2: Describe writers block, transition into list
Paragraph 3: Start outlining key points
etc

4) Start writing. Don’t think about grammar, phrasing, punctuation or language rules. Just get words out. Ignore word choices, ignore making things sound “professional.” Just get those ideas out and onto the page. At this point you want to have something out there to look at and critique, and hopefully, if you followed steps 1 through 3, you’ve got a few ideas up your sleeve now. Remember: the ideas don’t have to flow. You can write two distinct paragraphs, making two very different points, and that’s fine. You can go back later and fine tune things. Again, all you’re trying to do here is get something out onto the page that you can work with.

5) Do something else. Up until this point, I’ve talked about isolating yourself and focusing on writing. Here, I’m going to suggest leaving it, but with one caveat. Go and do something else that gets you moving, but not something that engages you entirely – something like cooking, cleaning, going for a run, lifting weights etc. Something that allows you to get yourself up, but without taking your full attention. There’s a reason why we have our best ideas in the shower, and turns out it’s because of the combination of 1) the release of dopamine, 2) being relaxed, and 3) being distracted enough that your subconscious can engage and work on a problem, results in you being more creative (science here)

Before you know it, you’ve got an outline, some body text and a fleshed out idea of what you want to say, and that’s half the battle right there. After you’ve got a skeleton to work with, it becomes a lot easier to start writing, and begin building your arguments.

How do you deal with writer’s block?

This post originally appeared on MrEpidemiology.com

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