Getting Into the Groove: How to Beat Writer's Block

January 28, 2020

BY: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company

Writer’s block. (Do you hear the Jaws theme song in the background?) Students dread it like a disease, and it makes even experienced writers struggle from time to time. Some authors like Ann Patchett think it’s a total myth. But whether the phenomenon is real or imagined, no one wants to waste hours in front of a blank Word document. Here are some tips you can relay to students (or utilize yourself) to help avoid and work through writer’s block.

  1. Set aside a space. Yes, this could be the typical homework desk we’re all thinking of, but encourage your students to try somewhere new or somewhere they know they already feel comfortable. Sometimes the pressure of sitting at the desk does little to help the mounting stress of looming deadlines—or the fact that they haven’t even selected a topic. Have them choose a space where they feel at ease (while still sitting upright) and the pressure doesn’t seem too intense. Many students choose outdoor areas or smaller spaces to avoid distractions, but have them try out a few different spots to discover where they can be most productive. Which leads to…
  2. Avoid distractions. While yes, the internet is a great research tool and few papers or projects can be completed without it, students need to limit leisure time spent surfing the web. If they are Google Chrome users, there’s even an extension called Block & Focus that will prevent leisure surfing. If it’s really an issue, a program called Cold Turkey allows students to choose a list of websites and those will be the only ones that are accessible for the designated amount of time when the program is running. Similarly, turning off or putting phones on airplane mode helps avoid getting sucked into apps and chatting with friends. Sometimes it’s as simple as sending friends an “MIA for the next few hours” text.
  3. Outline. Whether the assignment is a traditional research paper or part of a larger project, have students outline what they’ll be writing. This doesn’t have to be the strict II/A/1/a pattern we know and love: bullet points work just fine. Or, have them try getting a little creative. Concept mapping, boxes, and doodling can help students organize their thoughts. Mapping out the story can help with their current block as well as help prevent writer’s block down the road.  These simple exercises guide students into the final step…
  4. Just write. Often, this is the thing most students forget. Initially putting physical words on paper—or screen—is the hardest part and provides the largest opportunity for overthought. Encourage students to turn off their inner perfectionist and write without even looking at the page. Have them try writing for three or five minutes straight without using the backspace key at all. This jumpstarts the assignment, both propelling it further forward and providing the mental relief that comes from taking the hardest step. Many students find it infinitely easier to edit existing work – no matter what state it’s in – than start from scratch.

Whether or not you’re a believer in writer’s block, many students experience its symptoms. Providing students with an arsenal of simple tricks, or utilizing them yourself, helps combat its effects. With a little practice, your students can approach their larger writing assignments with the understanding that they have tools in their possession to make them manageable.

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