It’s three or four days before your Expos 201 paper is due. You’ve been thinking about starting the paper for a while now, the due date lingering in the back of your mind. After eating a large, healthy meal from the luxurious Seasons, you experience a rush of energy and decide to try and tackle the assignment, opening a new Word document. For the next 30 minutes or so, you stare at the blank screen and maybe write a couple of intro sentences. You use the thesaurus tool to find five different alternatives to the word “film,” with the hope of adding a bit of variety to the essay. The rest of the paper doesn’t get finished until the night before, when you panic and decide to write down a few choppy paragraphs. It’s not your finest moment, but you hope the collegiate gods will grace your paper with an acceptable grade.
This has happened to all of us at some point — at least I hope it has, I don’t want to be the only lazy person with a tendency to watch reruns of Law and Order SVU instead of writing a history essay. If you are one of those rare individuals who can write an amazing 5 page paper about the “Revisionist Western Film Genre” in one sitting, I applaud you. But for the rest of us, there is hope!
Yes, I am a writing center tutor, and yes, I have been a victim of writer’s block — I often found myself mindlessly staring at blank Word documents. And a blank Word document is not the most encouraging force in the world. Writer’s block is a constant battle — so what do you do?
Unfortunately, passing out on your notebook will not help you write your paper. However, there are ways to avoid this common dilemma. While the solution to cure writer’s block depends on your writing style and personality, here are a few suggestions to help you out:
- Be a slight overachiever. I realize this may be an extreme concept for many (including myself), but starting a paper early before the deadline is a great start to combat writer’s block. Write a paragraph a day or every other day, giving yourself time to think over what you wrote and how you can develop your argument. Yes, we college students are busy people; we have more important things to do (like watch the first three seasons of Entourage). However, this may be the most effective way to write a thoughtful, reflective paper on time. Motivation is key: make an appointment at the Writer Center and/or with your professor before the deadline of your paper. This will force you to have the majority of your paper done before the due date, giving you time to reflect and properly edit your work.
- Take a break. I like to believe that there is such a thing as taking a break even when you’re racing towards a paper deadline. You can only sit mindlessly in front of your laptop for so long, so why not take a break/be somewhat productive! Go walk up the Bentley hill, watch a new episode of The Office, do your laundry: the possibilities are endless. A break will clear your mind and hopefully encourage some creative thinking. Just keep in mind that this break should not encourage further procrastination: do not end up watching four episodes of The Office; that is the one thing you want to avoid.
- Get artistic. Surprisingly, those writing diagrams you created in high school are actually pretty effective – Venn diagrams, flow charts, persuasion charts. This is great for brainstorming ideas, organizing your key argument points, and just figuring out what you want to write. This may bring back memories to 9th grade English class, but writing your ideas on paper helps to map out your approach and argument.
I hope these three tips will help you defeat writer’s block. Personally, I have found that starting a paper early is rather effective (big surprise, I know). While this requires a great deal of motivation on my part, last semester I actually became organized and started collecting my thoughts early on before deadlines. It was definitely one of my proudest moments, along with surviving my first accounting class. And if I managed to change my writing habits, then you, dear reader, are more than capable of conquering writer’s block as well.