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A Chaotic Case of Writer’s Block: How (Not) to Write an Article at the Last Minute

Edited by: Aneesha Chandra

I’ve been staring at the blank white page on my laptop for seventeen minutes now. I’m supposed to write an article about the origin story of my career ambitions but I can’t think of a first line. The first line’s supposed to be good, right? It’s the hook that gets readers to take the bait and actually read a thousand-word article; it’s the deal-breaker. I can’t start writing my article without a first line. People always suggest that I start writing the main body of the article before the introduction because that makes it easier to write. That never really works for me. I have to have a first line and it has to be the first line of an introduction. What I usually do is write three to four garbage lines — to create the false impression of an introduction that would make you wonder how I’m publishing articles in a reputed college magazine — and continue with the rest of my article. It’s just not working today. 

It’s been twenty-nine minutes since I’ve opened the Google doc. I don’t intend to keep such a close eye on the time but I’m anxious about the ever-approaching deadline. I’m staring at the wall now. All I’ve done so far is type a bunch of random letters, organize them into nonsense words, and format them using 12-point Times New Roman. I like formatting first because it gives a sense of structure to my article even before I type out my main ideas. It’s really an illusion to trick me into thinking that I’m actually doing some work when it’s all just random words.

Approximately ten minutes have passed and I’ve found a new way to procrastinate. I’m now blinking in time to my flickering cursor. It’s rhythmic and calming. I think about going for a walk to clear my head. I read somewhere that walking helps you think and enhances creativity because when you walk, your heart pumps faster and that means more blood for your thirsty brain. Okay, I didn’t actually know that. I searched that on Google because blinking at a cursor gets boring after fifty seconds. I don’t go on the walk because I’m too tired to look respectable enough to be in public. I also don’t have the time. My deadline’s in about two hours and I take at least five hours to write an article. I should really get started. 

In twelve minutes, the clock will chime in mourning (or celebration?) of my first hour of unproductivity. I’ve written and rewritten the first line a thousand times. I’m not satisfied. I would scream but I’m not alone. I also need to preserve some semblance of sanity before I overwhelm my family with my actual breakdown due in fourteen days for the dreaded FINALS WEEK. I place my fingers on the keyboard, hoping that they’ll magically develop brains of their own, and type out legible sentences. They don’t, of course, but the thought is as hilarious as it is nauseating (can you imagine tiny brains at the ends of your fingers? *shudder*). Maybe I should write an article about ridiculous things my brain comes up with when I’m bored. I think it would be a laugh. I type out “I have the most inane thoughts when I’m bored or” on my Google doc but I soon realize I do not have any more “inane thoughts” now that I need them. My mind frustrates me.

Four minutes past the First Hour of Glorious Unproductivity, I am very conscious of my impending deadline in less than two hours and the lack of the barest scraps of an article, let alone eight hundred words of it, to submit by said deadline. A notification pops up on the bottom-right corner of the screen and the time pressure is much too real: Group C articles are due tonight! I should be high-tailing it back to my Google doc to put in the work, put in the hours, and take what’s [mine]. Instead, I take my sweet time responding to a question on a group chat I did not want to acknowledge until a more stressful task — unfortunately, in this case, writing my article — appeared. There are no more chats to respond to so I grudgingly open my still-white, still-blank page. Time passes. I wonder how many people have submitted their articles already; they’re amazing. I should probably ask them for time-management tips. 

The deadline is in seventy-nine minutes. I’m checking the time in minutes because less than an hour and a half sounds like it would breeze past. I’ve managed to write my introduction. There’s a tiny wiggle of dissatisfaction but I vehemently force it down by turning up the volume of an anime background OST that auto-played on Youtube. Writing the next paragraph should be a bit easier; I have all the ideas in my head, I just need to convert those abstract concepts into concrete, understandable sentences. I’ve started typing the second paragraph and suddenly, all I can think about is how some goof has turned on the AC to full-blast and now my feet are ice-cold. It takes me fifteen minutes to hunt for a pair of matching socks. I give up eventually and make do with a cotton brown sock on one foot and a woolly grey sock on the other. 

This is it, I tell myself with forty-five minutes left until the deadline. I’m not going to get distracted this time. I roll up my sleeves to my elbows and pull my hair into a messy bun, laugh to myself about the unintended cliché, and start typing. I’m only two sentences in before the keys on my keyboard stop clacking. I don’t want to write this article right now. I’ve been avoiding thinking about why I just can’t seem to start writing all this time but I don’t think I can get ahead without confronting it. The truth is, applying to graduate schools has been overwhelming and extraordinarily great at invoking questions about self-worth and making the right choice. I’ve been moody about it all day. Writing about how I started to pursue my field of interest (one of my best memories) at this point would only force me to deal with how discouraged and defeated I’ve been feeling about the entire application process when I’m not truly ready. I would not be able to give that memory any justice in my written work and that would just be plain disrespectful to me as a writer. 

With twenty-nine minutes to the deadline, I press Ctrl-A and backspace. All two hundred and thirty words of my article are instantaneously erased. It feels good. I’m relieved. I glance at my phone and the overwhelming time crunch is back like a boulder weighing on my shoulders. I sit back in my chair, try to dislodge the boulder as I think about what to write now. Maybe I’ll write something low-effort, maybe a fun listicle about how to cope with writer’s block. It hits me then. I type in my title, align it to the center, and make it bold. I smile like the Cheshire cat as I finally start typing.

I’ve been staring at the blank white page on my laptop for seventeen minutes now.

Rhea Thomson

Ashoka '21

That one person who just made the cut. Also an aspiring psychologist.
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