Doyle Online Writing Lab

Writer's Block

Writer's block can be caused by a variety of reasons. Writing center tutors can help students with this challenge by talking through ideas, asking questions, and engaging in activities designed to reduce the anxiety caused by the blank page.  In addition, Academic Support Services offers coaching for students experiencing academic difficulty due to writer's block and other problems.

In the simplest scenario, writer's block occurs because a student does not understand the assignment or has not done enough pre-writing on a subject. Writing center tutors can help take you through pre-writing exercises that will allow you to develop a thesis and structure for your essay.

Often at Reed, perfectionism gets in the way of being able to complete an assignment. If you are suffering from this problem it is important to remember to get help and that a draft is just that--a draft. Should your anxiety reach a point that you're experiencing physical symptoms, consider engaging with the resources at the Health and Counseling Center for additional support.

Here are some quick tips that may help:

  1. Try free-writing on the topic first. Sit down with a timer and write for 15 minutes non-stop even if you only write "this is dumb, this is dumb." Usually out of sheer boredom you will start writing something on topic. Don't correct anything: instead, make notes to yourself, like add details here or fix this later. When you are finished, reward yourself with coffee, chocolate, or a quick break.
  2. If you have already done free writing and are now stuck again, try creating a visual map of your ideas in order to come up with a working thesis and/or outline.
  3. If are stuck on a section, skip it and come back to it later.
  4. If a paper is due Saturday at 5 pm, start the week before and schedule an hour a day for writing. Having more time decreases the anxiety that every word must be golden, since you will have time to revise.
  5. Make a plan to visit the writing center tutor three days before the paper is due. This will give you a deadline to work towards and will still allow you to revise after you meet with the tutor.
  6. Work in a space where you won't be distracted or interrupted.
  7. If you are writing your thesis, make sure that you:
    1. give yourself time off each week
    2. make reasonable deadlines
    3. break down each section into small, manageable parts
    4. set up a daily schedule
    5. reward yourself regularly
  8. Even if the paper/chapter isn't perfect, turn it in ON TIME.

Also check out our resources on procrastination.

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