The vertical flashing black line in Microsoft Word is staring you down and reminding you just how little you have written thus far. Writer’s block can be downright demoralizing if you have an assignment due. Whether it is from distraction or procrastination, or your mind is at a standstill, writer’s block is frustrating when it refuses to relent. What is it that causes this bothersome problem and how can it be defeated if someone is stuck at a crossroads?
Writing involves many components that differ for individuals, ranging from purpose to mood to motivation. When something is missing from this mixture, writing can be impossible and panic can ensue.
“I think writer’s block is caused by lack of inspiration sometimes. Other times I think it’s stressrelated,” Nicole Massabrook, a sophomore writing assistant for the Writing Center said. Sometimes without that little “click” going off in one’s brain, words fail to materialize, which leads to even more worry about not being able to write. Massabrook continued, “Even with homework, sometimes you’re just stressed by the fact that it’s due soon and you have a million other things to do that you can only focus on the fact that it needs to get done instead of how you’re actually going to do it.”
Dr. Heather Brown, assistant professor of English, said that when people talk about writer’s block, what they are really talking about is writing anxiety. “I firmly believe that a major cause of writing anxiety is the idea that one has to wait for inspiration to strike. Inspiration is great when you can get it, but it is even more important that you get your butt in the chair, open a blank document and just start typing. The best way to cure writer’s block is to write,” Brown said.
“Writer’s block takes two forms with me. Generally, we’re talking about, for lack of a better term, literary constipation. As a journalist, writer’s block can’t exist,” said John Morano, professor of journalism and author of The Morano Eco-Adventure Books Series.
Brown brings up an interesting point when she said that the people who say that they work better under pressure are actually missing out on what their writing could be. “I’ve heard many people say this, and I used to be one of them, that they write better under pressure. The people who say this are missing an even more crucial ingredient than inspiration: time. If you don’t give yourself time to write, then your anxiety will get the better of you, eat up your time, make you even more anxious, and your writer’s block will get worse,” Brown said.
Laura Migliore, a student and writing assistant at the Writing Center, said that one cause of writer’s block could be from a misunderstanding of what needs to be done. “If you do not understand exactly what an assignment is asking for, what argument you want to make, or what ideas you want to present, you can end up staring at the computer for hours,” she said. Not believing in one’s own writing and doubting oneself can also be a cause for writing to come to a rushing halt. “Another cause for writer’s block is feeling self-conscious about your writing. Believing that you are not a good enough writer, will always make it more difficult to write. You will simply be psyching yourself out before you even attempt to begin writing your paper,” Migliore said.
Brown, on a similar brainwave, echoed some of the same things. She said, “You may write poetry with ease but freeze up when you have to write a persuasive essay. If we’re uncomfortable with the writing situation, then it’s even harder to get motivated to tackle that anxiety and start writing.”
Writer’s block can strike at any time and most likely will at the most inconvenient of times. Many have given recommendations and tips on different ways to overcome this temporary setback of writer’s block, sometimes working and sometimes not. Many have been plagued with writer’s block for years and along the way some have offered more insight into the dilemma. Massabrook said, “A high school teacher of mine taught me a writer’s block exercise. Start writing a stream of consciousness, just ‘I have writer’s block’ over and over. Then you’ll start thinking about why you have writer’s block or maybe even just why you hate writer’s block and you write that down too.”
Mary Harris, communication professor, said, “Writers of any sort can try to talk out the ideas aloud until their ideas become more clear. Also, people can try some freewriting exercises, and through this process, let go of any negative selftalk about one’s creative work. Just let the process happen and see if any new ideas are formulated from there.”
“The easiest way to conquer it, I find, is to try and say the story. Tell it to someone. I usually tell it to my dog, Max (he’s a great listener and has stellar literary judgment). Just by speaking the story, you’re actually creating a draft. I can tell Max the story several times, making adjustments along the way. If you can say the words, you can write the words,” Morano said.
Some people say working together to brainstorm can be beneficial to the overall product of an assignment. Migliore said, “Talking out the assignment with someone else can also help, and while you do, it might be beneficial to jot down whatever thoughts or ideas you may have as a result.”
“Talk to a faculty, friend or Writing Center tutor. Writing is social as well as solitary, and conversation can stimulate thought, which motivates writing,” Brown said. Brown also suggested to set goals for oneself, whether it be a word count deadline, like 500 words a day, or giving oneself rewards along the way to completing something. “Read other writers who write about writing. I go back to this one again and again because it comforts me to know that even the most accomplished writers have to set aside anxiety before they can get to work,” Brown said. Migliore said that if everything else fails, just write. “Do not try to make your paper turn-in ready, it may not even make much sense, but many times this is how you will develop your best ideas,” she said.
So if that document is still waiting untouched reminding you just how little you have gotten done, step away. Take your mind off of it and think about something else. All of the best writers have entered the writer’s block no man’s land at least a few times in their lives and they have gotten over it. It just takes perseverance and patience to develop the thoughts and ideas to push past the momentary delay in the brain. Brown said it nicely, “With few exceptions, nothing worth reading has ever been written in one sitting.” Just start tapping away, who knows what it is that you can come up with- maybe the next great thing. You never know.
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