20/20 – Day 12: 20 escapes from essay writer’s block

A poem:

Blank mind, blank screen, all is clear.
Scared to start and full of fear.
Not quite sure where to begin,
Nothing grand inspires within.
Vicious circles loop the loop,
“How can all my thoughts regroup?”
Take a look below and see
If these ideas can set you free.

  1. Free writing. Let all sorts out. At least you’ll be writing. Wikipedia has the rules.
  2. Compose without editing as you go. Similar to free writing, but not quite so relaxed.  For when your main problem lies mainly with perfectionism.  Leave that issue for later.
  3. Mix it up. Start at the end if you like.  Start wherever you want. Writing doesn’t have to be a linear process.  If you prefer to conclude before anything else, that’s okay with the world.
  4. Sum up what you want to argue/explain in a few sentences and work from that. Armed with your own overview, you’ve got more to go on.
  5. Use headings and notes as a core structure. Don’t know where to start? Take the information you already have and create a plan that way.
  6. Find quotations to work from.  You quote throughout an essay to back up, give examples, and engage.  Turn things on their head by using quotations as a way to start the writing process.
  7. Agree to craft just one sentence before walking away.
  8. Now agree to just one paragraph before walking away.
  9. Now agree to just one section before walking away. Little steps become bigger with confidence.
  10. Do/Don’t listen to music as you write.  Do the thing you normally wouldn’t do.
  11. Create a list of points instead of writing in full paragraphs. Challenge yourself to making 50 points. If you only end up with six points, who cares? You’ve made six points! Woo!
  12. Go for a walk and think about the essay as you survey the world.  To be sure you remember the good stuff, take a notepad and pen.  Don’t note stuff down on your phone/Blackberry.  Make this special, make this separate from everything else.
  13. Get rid of distractions.  Stay focused and don’t let anything get in your way.  That goes for distractions on screen too.  Try DarkCopy or Writer for getting rid of distractions while writing.
  14. Deconstruct the essay question.  The question is never as simple as you first imagine.
  15. Eat, drink, be merry. Is your gut holding you back?  Don’t go hungry or thirsty.  You’ll be most productive when you’ve satisfied your appetite.  But don’t eat too much or you’ll be annoyed by indigestion instead.
  16. Stop calling it a block.  If you treat any lack of writing as a block, you’ll feel more blocked.  It’s an opportunity to shine, not a block.
  17. Take relevant lecture notes, write them out again and work around them.
  18. Find dictionary terms for words mentioned. Look for inspiration through the definitions.  If that’s not enough, look the words up in a thesaurus too and see where else you can head.
  19. Change medium and/or location.  Handwritten essays can be typed up.  Try writing the old fashioned way.  And why always work in your room or in the library?  Use a bench on campus, a different computer room than your usual norm, anywhere that’s different.
  20. Refer to your essay as a ‘draft’. Your final version is where you think about the exact structure and ultimate arguments.  Don’t be so formal with a draft. Let rip!
Title image: original by tiffa130 (cc)