Tips and Tricks for Writing Struggles

You’ve probably been there, too. It’s sometime in the day (or, more realistically, night), and I’m staring at a screen. The little flashing line that is the text cursor mocks me for my inability to move it. “I am the great wall!” I imagine it saying to me in my delirious state, “You shall not pass!” And then I shut my laptop and head to bed because it’s probably two in the morning in this scenario.

So many people struggle with writing at one point or another. Yet, for some people, writing seems to come naturally. As you might deduce, I am not one of those people. I remember poignantly the ache of dread as I was assigned essays and papers in high school. I also remember putting off writing those papers until the dead of the night before the due date. Writing was, and still can be, terrifying to me. My pains, however, have not been for nothing. Through my trials and tribulations, I have learned some tips and tricks that have shifted the way I confront writing. That is not to say that I’m a perfect writer now, I am far from it. In fact, part of the journey has been figuring out that perfection is not “a thing” in writing. Rather, the lessons I’ve learned have helped me to build a healthier, more positive relationship with writing, and I think they could help you, too.

 

Just starting your project and feeling lost? Warm up by writing a stream of consciousness.

It’s exactly like it sounds: write down whatever thoughts surface in your mind. Before I even begin to tackle a writing project itself, I’ll transfer any and every thought I’m having in my mind onto the paper. I might begin the process by writing, “So, it looks like I’ve got another paper to write. I really don’t feel like writing. Can I just dip on school and academia please? What a beautiful, absolutely elusive dream. UGHHHHH MIDTERMS. Okay, I’ve got to start this paper at one point or another. What do I know about the prompt right now? We’re talking about the way …,” and it goes on. Doing some writing, regardless of what kind it is, helps you ease into the practice of translating your thoughts into words on a page and build momentum so that when you actually begin addressing the content of your project, you’re a little more fired up than you might have started and a little more ready to tackle the process.

 

Use all the resources at your disposal to get the support you need when writing.

Are you writing for a class? If so, go to your professor’s office hours and ask them for help in whatever stage you’re at with your paper. Whether you’re brainstorming or polishing off your final revisions, connecting with your professor is a great way to check to see if you’re on the right track. If you can’t make their office hours, try shooting them an email to schedule a meeting another time. Most professors will try to accommodate you if you have other commitments during the designated hours.

Many universities have a Writing Center — make use of it! You can go for walk-in tutoring, or you can schedule an appointment. Just make sure to schedule your appointment at least a couple of weeks in advance!

 

Stressing out? Schedule your writing.

If you find that stressing and thinking about your writing assignment are impinging upon your day-to-day life and commitments, you might want to schedule your writing. Instead of allowing your project to hover in the back of your mind at all times, try blocking out specific chunks of time in your day for you to spend thinking about and writing your piece. By allocating a defined space of time in your day to writing, you are at once dedicating time to developing your project and preventing the project from oozing over into the other aspects of your life. You’re taking control over the project, instead of letting the project dictate you. Yes, you’ll have to keep your eyes on the screen or paper and write during those two hours, but just for two hours. As soon as that time is up, you can put it out of your mind and move on until the next time.

 

Forget perfection. Perfection exists in few places, and writing is no exception.

A wise writing instructor once told me, “You have two voices in your head when you’re writing.” One is the creative voice, who has ideas and wants to write them all down. The other is the critical voice, who wants to scrutinize, edit, or reject any questionable ideas. Both are necessary to being a good writer. The trick, though, is to indulge in these voices separately. That is to say, when you’re just trying to get a first draft on the page, you have to shut off the critical voice. Kick’em out of the house of your mind, and let the creative voice go nuts. Accept that the paper may or may not make any cohesive sense at this point, what matters is that you are generating content. And that is what the creative voice is for! Then, once you’ve completed a first draft, you can let the editing voice back in to cut away the excess and refine your point. Writing is a process of drafting, editing, and revising, allowing these two voices to alternate in a syncopated dance.

 

Mental roadblock? Take a purposeful break.

Sometimes, your creative writing voice is going to be recalcitrant. When that happens, it can feel like no matter how hard you try, you just can’t squeeze a single thing out of your brain. In that case, put away your work, actively shove it out of your mind, and allocate a set amount of time to take a mental break. I recommend going outside for a walk and getting some sun or fresh air. You can also do some quick calisthenic exercises like burpees, push-ups, sit-ups, planks, or jumping jacks. Dancing to your favorite song is another great way to clear your mind. If you’re out in public and don’t feel like busting out your dance moves à la High School Musical, try pushing away your writing material and doodling. You can also try calling a friend or other trusted peer, which brings me to my next point … 

 

Feeling stuck or disorganized? Bounce ideas off of a trusted and reliable peer or supervisor, and take notes or record the conversation.

When you’re feeling stuck in the mud with your writing, consulting or even just talking at a friend, coworker, classmate, professor, or other trusted person can spark new ideas, center your focus, and get your momentum going again. What I’ve found to be key, however, is to not just have the conversation or idea session, but to actively take notes or record the conversation. In an ideal world, I would always have a person handy at my side to confer with while writing. I would also always write at a beautiful, well-lit, quiet library courtyard to the burbling sounds of a fountain and the waves of the beach nearby (this is my imagination, and I will have a beachside library in it). Alas, as we all know, in the real world, we have no such certainties or consistencies. So, when I’m able to catch a conversation with a professor, classmate, or friend to talk about my writing projects, I’ll take quick and to-the-point notes on my phone. If note-taking isn’t your thing, ask your friend if they’d mind you recording the conversation for future reference. 

 

Need moral support? Hold a writing party.

Set up writing sessions with people working on the same project or people who are also working on writing projects. No, writing parties may not be as exciting as your typical party. They do, however, offer great moral support. You are truly not alone in your efforts! Sometimes, just being in the presence of others who’re going through the same process can spark motivation, productivity, and inspiration. Plus, the cherry on top is that writing in proximity with other writers creates a great space for bouncing ideas off one another (see the previous point!). 

 

I hope some of this writing advice helps you in your endeavors. Remember, as cliché as it may sound, writing is a process, and messing up is perfectly normal, nay necessary, to the journey. You’re going to fumble anyway! Why not have some fun while you’re at it?