🎙️ How To Break Through Writer’s Block

Three Practices You Can Implement Today

By: Derek Jansen (MBA) and Ethar Al-Saraf (PhD) | June 2024

Writer’s block is a common challenge for students. All too often, it can feel like there’s an insurmountable wall between your current ideas and the polished document you envision. In this post, we’ll unpack three simple but effective techniques to help you break through writer’s block and ensure a smoother writing process overall.

Overview: Beating Writer’s Block

  1. Practice 1
  2. Practice 2
  3. Practice 3
  4. Key takeaways

1. Get Real About What ‘Good’ Writing Means

Often, writer’s block stems from our expectations being sky-high. In other words, we aim not just for ‘good’ but for perfect, idealised prose that accomplishes everything at once. So, to break through this block, it’s crucial to adjust your perception of what ‘good’ writing means in the context of academic work.

In practical terms, you need to focus on the truth and clarity of your writing, rather than its eloquence or perfection. Academic writing should be clear, accurate, and truthful, not necessarily beautiful or flawless. Realistically, most academic writing follows a pretty dry, standardised structure. To make life easier, consider using a template or following the same structure as past dissertations or theses from your department.

2. Note-Take Your Way into Writing

Instead of staring at a blank screen and waiting for inspiration to strike, take extensive notes over time and patch these together into a (very) rough first draft. In practical terms, this means taking notes as you go, whenever thoughts come to mind. List down bullet points, sketch out structures, jot down fragments of ideas. Don’t judge – just pen down anything that strikes you as potentially useful. This piece-by-piece approach transforms the writing process from creation ex nihilo to an exercise in assembly.

As you expand these notes and start piecing them together, you’ll naturally transition from planning to drafting without the daunting prospect of needing to write ‘perfectly’ right away. This can liberate your creative process, making writing feel more like filling in the gaps rather than forging a path through uncharted territory.

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3. Create the Right Environment

Whether we like it or not, physical and mental spaces play a significant role in overcoming writer’s block. So, try to establish a dedicated workspace where you can focus without distractions. This doesn’t necessarily mean a stark, silent room. Some people thrive with background noise or a view, others need deadly silence – experiment and find what works for you.

If you find yourself stuck, change your environment. A change of scenery can stimulate new ideas and perspectives. This could mean working in a café for a few hours, taking a walk, or even just moving to a different room. The new stimuli can help reset your mental state and give you a fresh look at challenging tasks. Don’t feel guilty about taking breaks or stepping away from your workspace – oftentimes, a little distance from the problem is exactly what’s needed to shift your perspective.

Wrapping Up

The most important shift in overcoming writer’s block is mental. You need to accept that first drafts aren’t perfect and that writing is inherently a process of revision and improvement. Allow yourself to write badly at first, to make mistakes, and to learn as you go. Each revision brings you closer to the clarity and precision needed in academic writing, while each draft is a step away from the paralysis of perfectionism.

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