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How to overcome writer’s block

By Charlie Hale on 12 July 2018Exam adviceHSCNSWblog

If you’re taking essay heavy subjects, chances are that at some point or another you’ve experienced writer’s block. You’re probably familiar with staring blankly at the computer screen for 14 minutes straight and then proceeding to write, and rewrite and rewrite again several versions of a pretty crappy first line.

It’s happened to all of us. It still happens to me on a regular basis. By virtue of bringing you this blog, writer’s block is a main, albeit unwelcome, part of my life.

Thankfully, year 12 doesn’t have to be a series of screen stares and scrapped beginnings. There are ways you can overcome the minor speed bump that is writer’s block and we’ve listed the best ones below...

1. The beginning isn’t always the best place to start…

When you’re writing an essay, tackling the introduction probably seems like a good place to start. But in reality, the introduction is often the hardest bit to write. If you’re struggling to get started, skip straight to a point that you’re feeling confident with and come back to the introduction when you’ve gained some momentum. Don’t get too hung up about starting at the beginning, just make a start, wherever that may be.

Uni professors regularly suggest writing your introduction last, so it’s a good tactic to get down early.

2. Stop trying

A bit like health professionals who suggest getting out of bed when you can’t sleep, if you’re facing a particularly tough mind block, just stop trying to write. Walk away. No amount of staring at the computer screen is going to magically make words on a page. Sure, it sounds counterintuitive, but try jumping to another task and come back to it later. Being that you’re in year 12, there’s likely not a short supply of work to do, so if the essay just isn’t coming, move onto something else.

Doing something different or creative may help get your brain juices flowing and that thing they say about “a fresh pair of eyes,” it really works. Just don’t put it off until the last minute, because writer’s block and pressure are not the best of friends.

3. Build on your plan

Most of the time, writer’s block is a case of knowing what you want to say, but not knowing how you want to say it. This is made 100 times worse by the fact that we all regularly get caught up in trying to make our sentences sound perfect. (Cue the scene of a struggling artist writing and scrapping the first sentence over and over and over AND OVER again.)

The best way you can overcome this is by building on what you’ve already got, i.e. your plan. Start adding to your plan by way of source material and all of the quotes you want to use. From there you can write the outline of each point you want to make and begin writing some of the points you feel confident with in full sentences. Remember: you don’t have to start with the introduction. Before you know it, you will have an 85% finished essay and the last bit will come without much brain power.

Any fancy wording can be added at the end, but the hard bit – getting the bones of the essay down – will be done. Just be sure that each sentence and paragraph links to the last, so your essay shows a natural progression of your main argument and most importantly make sure you’ve actually answered the question.

4. Move your body

I’m not suggesting you go to the gym every time you’re having difficulty stringing a sentence together, but getting away from your desk and moving your limbs around is a tried-and-true way of getting some of that fuzz out of your head.

Spending most of your day hunched over a mountain of studying will occasionally result in a brain breakdown. And instead of shouting “hello, is anyone home up there” whilst banging your head against the desk, you may as well channel that frustration into a stroll around the block.

Moving body = increased blood flow = well-functioning brain
(It’s not science, but it works).

5. Write early in the morning

We all work on different routines, which explains why some of us can happily study through the night and others are bouncing around like spring chickens at 7am. But night owl or early bird, there is hard, cold research that proves we do our most productive work in the morning. So if you’ve got a whole bunch of tasks to do, prioritise getting your essay done early in the day before your brain has turned into a potato.

6. Get rid of all the distractions

Not exactly rocket science, but if your laptop is seeing more push notifications than words typed, it’s probably time to switch off from social media. If self-control is lacking, try an internet blocker like Freedom for a more forceful approach. But eliminating distractions isn’t just about logging out of Facebook, it also means finding a quiet, uncluttered workspace where you’re not going to be disturbed. Concentration is as much about controlling the external stuff as it is the internal, so get around finding a productive study space.

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