- By Jason Bacot
- Published 12/28/2010
The first step to overcoming writer’s block is to make sure that your “writer’s block” isn’t really something else. Sometimes what you perceive as writer’s block is actually the fact that you don’t understand what’s expected of you, and that happens to be both very experienced writers as well as beginners. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes clearing up your “writer’s block” is a simple matter of calling up your thesis advisor and asking, “Should my chapter on resources include numbered lists, or do you want it to be written as a narrative? And is it OK if it’s only three or four pages long?” Having those answers will often get you unstuck. Writer’s block is often intricately intertwined with a sense of perfectionism. Why should you take the time to get words on paper if they’re not very good? The answer is simple: because any good piece of writing starts with a draft. You have the permission of the universe to make that draft as god-awful as you want, because nobody else ever has to see it. Sometimes getting the writerly juices flowing is a simple matter of lowering your standards. Don’t worry, you’ll raise them back up soon enough. If your earliest draft of a chapter needs to be little more than “word vomit” on the topic, so be it. Once you’ve got it down, it will be much more clear where you should go with it.
Another technique is spending 15 minutes free writing, whether on your thesis topic or something else entirely. Set an egg timer o
r the timer on your phone for 15 minutes and start writing about whatever comes to mind. Don’t correct or edit as you write. It’s fine if “whatever comes to mind” is “Why in the world did I choose this as a thesis topic?” Often, this messy, personal piece of journalism will have plenty of clues as to how to get going on your task. Again, nobody ever has to see it. When you’re done, go get a cup of coffee or give yourself a small reward for your effort. Carry a notebook and pen or a small voice recorder with you at all times. You honestly never can predict when a perfect opening sentence will take shape in your mind. And if you don’t write it down, it will evaporate, no matter how awesome you believe it to be. Bestselling American author Anne Lamott imagines God realizing an idea that needs to be born and thinking, “I’ll send this idea to Annie, because she has a pen, and she’ll write it down.” Be prepared for whenever that thesis statement, chapter title, concluding statement, etc. hatches in your brain. Don’t discount the benefits of physical activity. Sometimes a walk around the block or to the coffee shop, a half-hour on a treadmill, or some time at the local batting cage has the effect of dislodging something that’s stuck in your thoughts. Doing some totally non-writing related activity, like washing the dishes or vacuuming your room can have the same effect. But don’t forget to take your notebook and pen with you.
The greatest writers who ever lived often had major problems with writer’s block. But it didn’t stop Tolstoy from writing War and Peace.