You wouldn’t believe how long I’ve stared at this Word document before I started typing. You’d think that after reading article after article on how to beat writer’s block, I’d have this thing down and words would bend to my every whim. Defeating writer’s block is a process ““ a long, arduous process ““ but hopefully this list of pointers can help us all along the path to writing superstardom.
Before I can delve too deeply into how to battle the Blank Dragon, it’s necessary to examine the roots. Writer’s block can come from a variety of sources, but the two that I encounter and experience most frequently are anxiety about my writing and feeling burnt out on the subject.
Writing anxiety usually comes about when one is working on something that must be assessed by someone one’s either trying to impress or who has a stake in their academic and/or employment future. Even writing a simple email to my advisor can be an arduous task because what if this is the email that makes her realize that I’m not that smart? Logically, I know that that little italic voice makes no sense, but since writing is such a highly valued skill in academia, I tend to feel a bit of performance anxiety.
Feeling burnt out is almost on the other end of the spectrum from writing anxiety ““ the subject has been walked so many times that thinking about it becomes a burden. There is no worry, only dread. My friends who are finishing up writing talk about how they just can’t think about their dissertation. I have a paper manuscript that I just leave open sometimes, unable to face the same well-trodden ground.
These two different sources of writer’s block require two different (but potentially overlapping) sets of techniques.
Fighting writer’s anxiety:
– Talk yourself down. Remind yourself that your writing assignments have stood up well so far and that if you work hard, you’ll be fine, again. Remind yourself that this paper/manuscript/chapter won’t suddenly reveal a hidden side of your academic personality. It’ll be alright. You’re competent and prepared: you’ll be fine.
– Free write. This one helps me more than anything else on the list. I spend too much time worrying about making my first draft a perfect draft instead of just getting the words out and working from there. I try to put myself in a relaxed mood and just spew words onto the page. I can tidy it up later, but for now, all that matters is getting stuff out there. This took a big adjustment in my attitude towards writing, but it’s been productive.
– Seek out writing resources. Talk to your peers or mentors, visit the writing center, and take advantage of writing circles that focus on thesis/dissertation work. These don’t work for everyone, but if you’d benefit from additional resources, check out what’s available on campus ““ it surprised me how much was around when I actually sat down and looked.
Reigniting that passion:
– Live a balanced life. Apparently, spending sufficient time relaxing, focusing on friends and family, trying out hobbies, and working on other work, makes writing easier. As you know, the whole work-life balance thing is something I’m still sorting out, but hey, I know this is good advice even if I’m still trying to implement it.
– Get stoked. What gets you pumped? Do that. For me, it’s a mixture of listening to rockin’ music and talking to a friend or acquaintance or poor soul stuck on the elevator with me about what got me into the field in the first place and the cool, weird things I saw while collecting data. It’s rejuvenating.
The middle ground:
– Find a productive work place. It can be your bedroom, it can be the neighborhood cafÃ©, it can be your office, your work space should be wherever you feel like you can really buckle down and let those writing juices flow. Make it a point to make time in your schedule for being at your writing spot.
– Take breaks when you need them, but don’t go too far. Taking well-placed breaks allows you to clear your mind and realign your thoughts, and it keeps your fingers from cramping into painful home-keys induced crone’s hands. I suggest going on a walk and getting bagels. Mmm”¦bagels”¦
The most important tip of all though is this: celebrate. Celebrate reaching a goal, or being a BAMF of an academic. You fought the word document and YOU won.
How do you deal with writer’s block? What tools/techniques do you use? What advice do you wish you had had about writing going into academia?