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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at GWU chapter.

As a kid, the monster under my bed was red, spiky and absolutely terrifying—think Monsters Inc. Now, the monster under my bed is ten pages, in APA citation style and absolutely petrifying—think a research paper. As a freshman in college, I’ve had to write a lot. Research papers to personal essays and everything in between are on the agenda this semester. Some of them are difficult in content or new methodology, but others are difficult because of the monster’s best friend—writer’s block. When I know that I have to write, getting pen to paper (or fingers to keys) can feel like an insurmountable obstacle even when I know the general idea of what I’m going to write. Below I’ve listed five ways I try to curb writer’s block before it fully transforms into a red, spiky and undefeatable monster. 

  1. Write Now, Edit Later

Firstly, I have to acknowledge that sometimes—no matter what I do—the words just don’t flow. My brain is empty, I’m frustrated and no tip or new approach seems to work. So instead of trying for perfection, I write trash. Not purposefully horrible writing, of course, but paragraphs I know I’ll have to edit 90% of later— but at least I’ll have something to edit. I do this by not letting myself revise as I write and turning off (or trying my best to ignore) the voice in my head that’s constantly saying “you repeat this word too much” or “what would be an even better word to go here?” 

  1. Step Away

Sometimes the best thing you can do to encourage writing is to do something other than writing. In my opinion, a good break has three qualities: it’s mindless, enjoyable and has a set time limit. The first, mindless, relates to the common phenomena of productive procrastination, or doing something productive as a means to procrastinate what you actually have to do. Productive procrastination uses your brain in a task that requires focus and thinking—like another, less scary assignment—that allows you to obtain the accomplished feeling you’re not receiving through procrastinating your original task. This leads to pushing back your original task even further because you already accomplished something, right? Instead, step away to something easy and mindless that won’t give you such a large feeling of accomplishment. For me, this is usually a short walk or organizing something with music on in the background. Also through primarily completing a mindless task, my brain can wander and think about my upcoming assignment in a non-pressured, more creative way. 

The second requirement, enjoyable, ties into the previous one. While a task should be easy, it should also be enjoyable—think of it as a reward sandwich where the hard task is sandwiched between a small pre-reward and bigger post-reward. A break that’s enjoyable could be making a fun drink you’ll enjoy while working or either of the examples under the easy category. Because this break consists of easy and enjoyable tasks, the third element—a time limit—is necessary. If I didn’t set a timer, I might keep extending my break or start up new productive procrastination tasks. This also allows me to either not think about the assignment at all during my break, or think about it in a non-pressured way as I know I’ll get back to it. While the timer is on, try to not check how much time is left. Otherwise, a break could feel like a dreadful count down instead of what it’s supposed to feel like—a break. 

  1. Don’t Put Fingers to Keys

This one may sound paradoxical, but occasionally the only way I can start writing is by doing something other than writing. I don’t mean fully stepping away like in #2, but I’ve found that speaking or handwriting can start the momentum instead. Whether it’s talking with a friend about the subject or speaking to myself in a voice memo, when I’m speaking I’m not over analyzing each word and I can pull out ideas that I later transcribe. Handwriting in a notebook or on a whiteboard is another method of getting words out of my head without psyching myself out by staring at a blank Google Doc for two hours.

  1. Write for 5 Minutes

Some may claim that the pomodoro method (25 minutes working, 5 minute break, repeat) is best, but I’ve found that even 25 minutes can sometimes be too long for me to write. I’ll stare at a blank page for 5 minutes, write a sentence, realize I hate it and repeat until there’s 5 minutes left and I realize I actually have to get writing. Then, somehow, I’ll write a paragraph or two. I’ve realized that when I’m well and truly stuck, I should simply cut out the first 20 wasted minutes and move straight to writing as much as I can in a true time crunch. Play around with different times and see if the full 25 minutes, 5 minutes or any times in between work for you. 

  1.  End in the Middle of a Sentence

For multi-day assignments, this last method is more for your future self than your current self. When you’ve finally begun writing and feel like you’re “in the zone,” write as much as you can and then stop in the middle of a sentence. By not finishing the sentence, but clearly illustrating where it should lead or writing down a reminder for your next writing session, you have a jumping off point that will allow you to not just stare at your starting point. One way to expand on this is to outline your next few sentences or paragraphs of where you’re leading to so you can encourage a similar headspace in the future to the writing mode you’re in now. This can also reduce inconsistencies of points you first meant to later expand upon in a later writing session, but then slipped your mind when that later writing session came.

Even when writer’s block makes that research paper feel monstrous and undefeatable, the looming deadline won’t go away and neither should trying out new methods to overcome writer’s block. Whether it’s taking a break and not writing, or writing anything you can think of, hopefully these methods help you defeat the undefeatable and finally curb writer’s block (for this assignment, at least).

bio coming soon!