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Contributors:Sean M. Conrey, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

Help in overcoming writer's block and a short series of exercises to get you writing.

Symptoms and Cures for Writer's Block

Because writers have various ways of writing, a variety of things can cause a writer to experience anxiety, and sometimes this anxiety leads to writer's block. Often a solution can be found by speaking with your instructor (if you are in school), or a writing tutor. There are some common causes of writer's block, however, and when you are blocked, consider these causes and try the strategies that sound most promising:

Symptom

You have attempted to begin a paper without doing any preliminary work such as brainstorming or outlining...

Possible Cures

Symptom

You have chosen or been assigned a topic which bores you....

Possible Cures

Symptom

You don't want to spend time writing or don't understand the assignment...

Possible Cures

Symptom

You are anxious about writing the paper...

Possible Cures

Symptom

You are so stressed out you can't seem to put a word on the page...

Possible Cures

Symptom

You're self-conscious about your writing, you may have trouble getting started. So, if you're preoccupied with the idea that you have to write about a subject and feel you probably won't express yourself well...

Possible Cures

Contributors:Sean M. Conrey, Allen Brizee.
Summary:

Help in overcoming writer's block and a short series of exercises to get you writing.

Other Strategies for Getting Over Writer's Block

If you have tried the other strategies and are still having problems, try some of these general techniques for getting over writer's block. These strategies will prove more helpful when you're drafting your writing.

Begin in the Middle

Start writing at whatever point you like. If you want to begin in the middle, fine. Leave the introduction or first section until later. The reader will never know that you wrote the paper "backwards." Besides, some writers routinely save the introduction until later when they have a clearer idea of what the main idea and purpose of the piece will be.

Talk Out the Paper

Talking feels less artificial than writing to some people. Talk about what you want to write someone—your teacher, a friend, a roommate, or a tutor. Just pick someone who's willing to give you fifteen to thirty minutes to talk about the topic and whose main aim is to help you start writing. Have the person take notes while you talk or tape your conversation. Talking will be helpful because you'll probably be more natural and spontaneous in speech than in writing. Your listener can ask questions and guide you as you speak, and you'll be more likely to relax and say something unpredictable than if that you were sitting and forcing yourself to write.

Tape the Paper

Talk into a tape recorder, imagining your audience sitting in front of you. Then, transcribe the tape-recorded material. You'll at least have some ideas written down to work with and move around.

Change the Audience

Pretend that you're writing to a child, to a close friend, to a parent, to a person who sharply disagrees with you, or to someone who's new to the subject and needs to have you explain your paper's topic slowly and clearly. Changing the audience can clarify your purpose and can also make you feel more comfortable and help you write more easily.

Play a Role

Pretend you are someone else writing the paper. For instance, if you have been asked to write about sexist advertising, assume you are the president of the National Organization of Women. Or, pretend you are the president of a major oil company asked to defend the high price of oil. Consider being someone in another time period, or someone with a wildly different perspective from your own. Pulling yourself out of your usual perspective can help you see things that are otherwise invisible or difficult to articulate, and your writing will be stronger for it.

(Many of these ideas are from Peter Elbow's Writing with Power, [Ch. 8; 59-77] and Mack Skjei's Overcoming Writing Blocks.)