Whether you’re majoring in English or not, you’ve probably encountered some form of writer’s block. If not, I envy your ability to write without that burden. Writer’s block and I know each other very well. I wouldn’t say we’re on good terms. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that we’re enemies.
Ironically, words fail me as I try to find the right way to define writer’s block. What I can say is this: it sucks. Writing would be so much easier if there were no mental barriers in the way. Maybe then essays wouldn’t be so painful. Maybe then we could all become published authors who crank out novels by the week. But writer’s block is like the sandbag in a hot air balloon. Its only purpose, it seems, is to weigh you down.
The only good thing about writer’s block is that it isn’t permanent. Even better, you can take actionable steps to overcome it. Her Campus reached out to three English majors and Writing Center Associates from Trinity College to address their experiences with writer’s block, and what strategies they’ve learned to deal with it. Take notes — this could save you in the long run.
Embrace the struggle.
In my ideal world, writer’s block would cease to exist. I think anyone who writes regularly wishes the same thing. But that’s an impossible ask. Writer’s block will stick around for as long as stress, insecurity, and judgment do.
Instead of willing writer’s block away, Marshall Montner, a Writing Center Associate and senior at Trinity, tells Her Campus it’s better to embrace it. “I think the first step to ‘overcome’ writer’s block is to actually acknowledge and normalize it within your writing process,” he says. “Accepting that writer’s block happens — and that it happens to everyone — is crucial in being compassionate to yourself as a writer.” Self-love is a necessary tool to all writing. Without practicing self-love, you’ll be swallowed in self-doubt.
Further emphasizing the need for compassion in writing, Montner adds, “In managing and dealing with writer’s block, be kind to yourself and try to prevent yourself from judging your thoughts and ideas as not good enough in the given moment.” No matter how tempting it may be to over-critique your own writing, don’t fall for it.
Allow yourself to get upset.
If you spend a lot of time working on a piece, the likelihood of you hating it doubles. This is not a proven fact — just something I observed from experience. While patience is a virtue when it comes to writing, it’s okay to get frustrated, too. Gwyn Gutheil, a senior Creative Writing major at Trinity, admits to getting angry with her work from time to time. But she doesn’t let herself dwell on these negative emotions. Instead, she finds a way to distract herself from all the stress.
“When I have writer’s block,” Gutheil says. “I usually try to push through it, get frustrated, then go for a walk. Whether I’m just pacing through shelves in the library or if I actually get up and go outside, it usually helps.” I second Gwyn on this: Going outside will do wonders. There’s nothing like a bit of fresh air to refresh your energy and attitude!
Say it, don’t read it.
You’re three hours into writing your essay, and you’ve lost your ability to read. Your eyes glaze over the laptop screen. Words scramble into illegibility. You’ve got a case of writer’s block, and it’s a nasty one.
To cure yourself from writing paralysis, Writing Center Associate and Trinity senior Zoë Sylvester-Chin recommends listening, not reading. “Record yourself talking about the essay topic aloud,” she says. “Your initial thoughts don’t have to be organized, coherent, or eloquent. Just voice every idea you have on the topic.”
As Sylvester-Chin stresses, vocalizing your thoughts can definitely help clear your brain fog. But before you can translate your words onto the page, it’s important to take a break. “Listen to the recording after taking some time away from the assignment,” she says. “There’s a good chance you’ll find some gems that can be turned into a more formal outline. Sometimes, the most helpful first step is to speak rather than write!”
If you’d rather hear your writing in someone else’s voice, I recommend the app Speechify. With Speechify, you can copy and paste your text and choose a voice to speak it back to you. They have a wide range of voices, which even includes Snoop Dogg and GOOP queen Gwyneth Paltrow.
Breaks are always a necessity, but you don’t have to take time off from writing in general. Instead of continuing to write whatever’s bringing you stress, my advice is to start a new project, no matter how big or small. Start journaling. Jot down lines and images that pop up in your head. Send a letter to a loved one. Whatever you choose to do, do it for yourself — not for a grade, not for a greater audience. Shut down your inner critic. Remind yourself why you write in the first place. Treat it as an act of joy. Of self-discovery. Of reflection. Of play. Once you make peace with your writing, you’ll be armed with the confidence to take on creative burnout.