12: Tips for Writer’s Block

  • Figure out the time and place that allows for the least disturbance for writing and allows you to be the most productive.
  • You may want to give yourself time for a mental transition into writing from other tasks—think of it as warming up your brain before you begin.
  • Park on a downhill slope: finish your work knowing where to begin next time; this may allow you to get back to work with less apprehension.
  • Begin anywhere: Start writing at whatever point you want. If you want to begin in the middle, fine. Leave the introduction or first section until later.
  • Talk about the paper: Talk to someone about your ideas. Talking will help you crystallize your thoughts into words or help you explain an idea in the simplest terms.
  • Tape the paper: Talk into an audio recorder (imagining a particular audience, if that helps). Then, transcribe the recorder material, and you’ll at least have some ideas down on paper to work with and move around.
  • Write through the confusion: Try freewriting about the thoughts, feelings, or ideas that are causing you confusion. By writing through your “block,” you may notice that writing is easier and ideas or questions become clearer as you write.
  • Change the audience: Imagine you are writing to a friend, a parent, a person who disagrees with you, or someone who’s new to the subject. This can help you make your ideas clearer or make you feel more comfortable and help you write more easily.

Audio examples from current PhD students:

Beth’s Story: listen to PhD student Beth talk about how she used a note card and “chunking” strategy to overcome her writer’s block during a busy semester with seminar projects and a comprehensive exam.

Shrelina’s Story: listen to new PhD candidate Shrelina talk about how she is able to use her passion for and knowledge about dance to construct and organize her writing and communication.