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Five Strategies for Overcoming Writer’s Block

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Williams chapter.

Writer’s block– defined by Merriam-Webster as “a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece”– is a serious source of anxiety that even the best writers struggle with. As a college student taking classes on vastly different topics, it is normal to feel like some essays flow right out of your fingertips onto your keyboard while others seem impossible to begin. Developing a repertoire of tools to bring to any essay assignment can break the cycle of writer’s block and help you meet deadlines. The article outlines a non-exhaustive list of strategies that may work for you.

  1. Set a timer for 20-30 minutes and write anything that comes to mind

Fear of the blank page is real. For those with perfectionist tendencies, nothing you write in your first draft will ever be good enough for you. But it is important and healthy in the early stages of crafting your essay to turn off your inner editor. An exercise like this can help you get over the initial challenge of getting something, or anything on a page without pressuring yourself to write perfectly. This pre-writing may or may not end up in the essay itself, but this is an excellent strategy to put your brain in essay-writing mode and start to generate ideas.

  1. Take intentional breaks

Staring at a computer screen and waiting for a sentence or idea to magically appear is not necessarily helpful. Taking an intentional break to do a quick activity– go for a walk, listen to some music, or do some light cleaning– can give your brain a rest, and this may give you a better perspective on the complex problem you are thinking through.

  1. Explain your paper idea to a friend

The whole point of writing an essay is to communicate a complex idea to another person in a way that is digestible. The best way to see where you have gaps in your thinking or at what points in your argument gets dense and needs more time spent explaining is to talk through it with another person. This friend can help you with this process by asking clarifying questions and can give you other kinds of helpful feedback, as well.

4. Use campus resources

If you are feeling stuck at any stage in your writing, don’t be afraid to visit your school’s writing center or your professor’s office hours. There is no shame in seeking help and taking advantage of the resources available to you. Such resources are there because students need them, and they can be very helpful. Attending your professor’s office hours, if they offer them, is especially beneficial. By going directly to your professor, they can clarify the prompt or their expectations for you, and the professor often gives you advice specific to the direction your essay is heading based on your conversation. Most professors will recognize that you took time out of your day to meet, which demonstrates a commitment to succeed at the class and the assignment, and this may reflect positively in your final grade. Office hours are also an opportunity for your professor to get to know you as a person rather than as a name and face in a large classroom, which can become a crucial academic and professional relationship.

5. Find a reason to write

Sometimes writer’s block stems from a feeling that a particular writing assignment is totally pointless. A ten-page paper on Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment may feel tedious, but finding a reason to appreciate the process of writing can help. The ability to write and communicate across distances with strangers, to write in different modes, and tailor your argument to move an audience, is a powerful skill. Strong writing skills can help you organize your thoughts and feelings, advocate for yourself and your community, or land and succeed at a job. Reframe your thinking around what skills you can learn by writing about topics that aren’t necessarily relevant to your interests (or, even better, by learning to write about a boring topic in a way that does make it relevant and interesting), and you may find a renewed sense of motivation.

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Jordan Furtak

Williams '23

Originally from San Diego, CA, Jordan is a Junior at Williams College studying English and Political Science.