Writer’s block – when you are stuck
At some point in the writing process, you might experience writer’s block. Whether it strikes before you have even started writing or halfway through the process, it can be very frustrating when you just cannot seem to find the right words. Here are some useful tips on how to get on with your writing:
Stuck before you even get started
It can be difficult to know where to start when writing a text. However, there are a few techniques that can help you sort your thoughts, and figure out where you want to begin.
First, set a timer; three to five minutes is usually a good place to start. Then, decide on a topic, or have a fellow student or friend provide you with a topic. The next step is to start the timer, and try to write continously about your topic until the timer goes off.
The purpose of freewriting is not to create a perfect text, or even a text that makes sense, but simply to generate words and ideas. Some people even turn off or dim their computer monitor order to avoid focusing on how the text turns out. After you are done with the freewriting, you can read the text. Chances are you will have something you can use, one way or another!
This exercise helps you generate ideas. It also helps you figure out what you know about a topic – and what you don't know. This exercise is also useful because it helps you become more relaxed about writing.
2. Don't start at the beginning
Many people make the mistake of thinking they have to write the text from beginning to end, as you would read it. That may not necessarily be the best idea, because introductions usually start out with a wider scope than the rest of the paper (read more about introductions). It might not be very easy to adopt this mindset very early in the writing process. Therefore, it is often much easier to start with chapters that deal with theory, methods or even the results themselves. These sections are usually more straightforward than the introduction, and, therefore, easier to write.
3. Forget about being perfect
Writing can be divided into two stages: the creative stage and the critical stage. In the creative stage, your only goal is to create text and generate ideas. In the critical stage, you should strive to make those ideas and your text readable and understandable to other people. Many people worry too much about writing something that is perfect right away, and forget that they usually have time to revise the text afterwards. A first draft is usually not perfect, so you should not worry too much about this when you first start writing.
Writer’s block when you have started writing
So, you got off to a good start, and you have already written several paragraphs. Then, suddenly, you have no idea what to say next. Luckily, there are some things you can do to get back on track.
1. Get some feedback
When you are writing a text, it is difficult to take the perspective of anyone but yourself. By having someone read your text and give you feedback, you can get an outsider’s perspective on your text, and perhaps get some new ideas. This is often helpful, because you end up changing parts of your text, which might help you figure out what you want to say next.
2. Start somewhere else
Even if you decided that today was the day you were going to write your methodology chapter, you may find you would much rather focus on your analysis. If you have an idea for a chapter, start writing it down, even if it was not what you were planning to do. Writing something else for a while can also help you distance yourself from the section you are stuck on, and perhaps writing that chapter will be easier after you have written something else. Sometimes you might even make a reference to something you have not yet written, thereby giving yourself an idea of something you should include in the chapter you are stuck on. Another option is to start to writing right in the middle of the chapter, instead of starting at the beginning.
3. Get a fresh start
Sometimes, you will have written a few sentences of a chapter when you suddenly find yourself grinding to a halt. Maybe you have written yourself into a corner without even realizing it? Try starting over in a new document or on a blank page, and ignore what you have already written for a while. Remember that just because you have written something down, it doesn't mean you have to use that in your final text, and sometimes it's a good idea to simply start over and see where it takes you.
4. Take a break from it all
Breaks are important, especially if you have been writing a lot in short amount of time. Allow yourself to do something completely different, and try not to think about what you should be writing.
Nygaard, Lynn P. (2008). Writing for Scholars. A Practical Guide to Making Sense and Being Heard. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget