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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.


Symptoms and Cures for Writer's Block

Summary:

Help in overcoming writer's block and a short series of exercises to get you writing.

Because writers have various ways of writing, a variety of things can cause a writer to experience anxiety, and sometimes this anxiety leads to writer's block. Often a solution can be found by speaking with your instructor (if you are in school), or a writing tutor. There are some common causes of writer's block, however, and when you are blocked, consider these causes and try the strategies that sound most promising:

Symptom

You have attempted to begin a paper without doing any preliminary work such as brainstorming or outlining...

Possible Cures

  • Use invention strategies suggested by a tutor or teacher
  • Write down all the primary ideas you'd like to express and then fill in each with the smaller ideas that make up each primary idea. This can easily be converted into an outline

Symptom

You have chosen or been assigned a topic which bores you....

Possible Cures

  • Choose a particular aspect of the topic you are interested in (if the writing situation will allow it...i.e. if the goal of your writing can be adjusted and is not given to you specifically, or if the teacher or project coordinator will allow it)
  • Talk to a tutor about how you can personalize a topic to make it more interesting

Symptom

You don't want to spend time writing or don't understand the assignment...

Possible Cures

  • Resign yourself to the fact that you have to write
  • Find out what is expected of you (consult a teacher, textbook, student, tutor, or project coordinator)
  • Look at some of the strategies for writing anxiety listed below

Symptom

You are anxious about writing the paper...

Possible Cures

  • Focus your energy by rehearsing the task in your head.
  • Consciously stop the non-productive comments running through your head by replacing them with productive ones.
  • If you have some "rituals" for writing success (chewing gum, listening to jazz etc.), use them.

Symptom

You are so stressed out you can't seem to put a word on the page...

Possible Cures

  • Stretch! If you can't stand up, stretch as many muscle groups as possible while staying seated.
  • Try tensing and releasing various muscle groups. Starting from your toes, tense up for perhaps five to ten seconds and then let go. Relax and then go on to another muscle group.
  • Breathe deeply. Close your eyes; then, fill your chest cavity slowly by taking four of five short deep breaths. Hold each breath until it hurts, and then let it out slowly.
  • Use a calming word or mental image to focus on while relaxing. If you choose a word, be careful not to use an imperative. Don't command yourself to "Calm down!" or "Relax!"

Symptom

You're self-conscious about your writing, you may have trouble getting started. So, if you're preoccupied with the idea that you have to write about a subject and feel you probably won't express yourself well...

Possible Cures

  • Talk over the subject with a friend or tutor.
  • assure yourself that the first draft doesn't have to be a work of genius, it is something to work with.
  • Force yourself to write down something, however poorly worded, that approximates your thought (you can revise this later) and go on with the next idea.
  • Break the task up into steps. Meet the general purpose first, and then flesh out the more specific aspects later.
  • Try one of the strategies on the next page of this resource.
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Copyright ©1995-2018 by The Writing Lab & The OWL at Purdue and Purdue University. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, reproduced, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our terms and conditions of fair use.