Writer's block - and how to beat it
Writing anything is creative, exciting, and also scary. That's why all
writers sometimes feel writer's block. It's really based on fear - fear
of getting it wrong, fear of making a fool of yourself.
Most of us react to that fear by distracting ourselves. You do something
else instead of writing what you need to write. You might just go to the
pub. Or you might read something which is nothing to do with the essay.
More subtly, you might read something which looks as if it is connected
with the essay. There's nothing like going to the library and getting
another five books out to make you feel that you're achieving something.
Or you start on a task which looks as if it might be urgent. Anything
to keep your mind off the task you have to do. My own favourite distractions
reading something which looks important, but is irrelevant (it really
is time that I read some of the Shakespeare plays I haven't read yet)
playing chess on the computer (if I were World Chess Champion, I wouldn't
have to do this writing, would I?)
ironing (I don't normally do much of this. My wife says that she can tell
when I have some writing to do, because I start ironing)
going for a run, bike-ride, swim etc (because it's important to keep fit,
These all look as if I'm not wasting time. But wasting time is exactly
what they are, of course. And I haven't even started on watching TV, going
to the pub, and so on. No doubt you've got your own list of favourite
distractions as well.
And it's all based on fear. All based on the idea that if I don't get
on with the writing I have to do, then at least I can't fail at it. How
can I, or you, get to grips with the fear that causes writer's block?
Here are some techniques for making yourself write when you feel blocked.
- Write 200 words
Don't try to write your essay - just set out to write 200 words and
then stop. This is much less scary than writing a whole essay. And when
you've written your 200 words, reward yourself with a distraction. You'll
probably find that you enjoy the distraction more because you're not
as stressed as you were.
- Write down four reasons why you're scared of the essay.
These might be reasons to do with the essay as a whole. Or they might
be to do with particular bits of it that you don't know enough about.
Whatever the reasons are, if you write them down they're not inside
you any more. They're outside, on a piece of paper. That makes them
easier to deal with.
- Leave tasks unfinished.
If you leave a task unfinished at the end of a writing session, it means
that you start the next session by finishing off something which you're
already familiar with. This is easier than starting a new topic right
- Read your essay aloud
Read it aloud to yourself, or to a friend, or into a tape recorder.
This can help to change the way you think about the essay, and get you
- Pretend you're somebody else
This is another way of shifting perspective and getting your thinking
moving again. Pretend that you're David Beckham - what would he have
to say about the essay?
- Imagine that you have to explain the essay to a child
This is a good way of shifting perspective. If you explain your essay
to a child, you'll have to use simple language. This helps you see your
essay in clear terms. That way, you don't get lost, and stressed, in
the complications of academic language.
You can try any or all of these. Different ones work for different people.
Whatever you try, don't be afraid of writer's block. Everybody suffers
from it sometimes. It won't go away completely, but you can fight it.