Stuck?

 
Almost all writers experience feeling stuck or blocked in their writing. So what can you do if this happens to you? Here are some suggestions:
 

    ·  A colleague once told me that he advises his students: Put your fingers on the keyboard and start typing. Make yourself type, even if you’re just writing “The witch in the graduate school told me I had to write 90 minutes every day so I’m writing. Of course, what I’m writing is nonsense but I’m writing.” Seriously. Start writing/typing. Think about your topic and what you’re suppose to be writing about. “OK, my topic today is philosophical and developmental theories of moral reasoning so I guess I should write about Rousseau and Durkheim and Piaget and Kohlberg. OK, so I’ll begin with Piaget. Piaget is perhaps the ….” You will likely write some nonsense but eventually you’ll get to your good stuff. Or at least decent stuff. You’ll make it better when you get to the editing stage.
     
    ·  The hardest part of a manuscript, chapter, section, or paragraph is usually the beginning and the ending. So start in the middle first. Once you get the substantive part written you can work on the beginning and end.
     
    ·  Here’s what helps me get started. If I’m writing a chapter, I first type each heading that seems relevant from beginning to end of the chapter. Then I go back and write in subheadings under each heading. Then under each subheading I write the thought or idea that will become each paragraph. By this time I am likely to have five to eight thoughts and ideas under each subheading. Then, and only then, do I pick a section and begin to write. Doing it this way, I already know where I’m going with each section. This helps because I find that as I write a section, even if that section is going well, I start to feel anxious about the sections ahead. “What if I don’t know where to go next with this? What if I can’t think of anything to write in the next section?” I don’t feel so anxious because I’ve already listed what will be in each section. And because the entire manuscript or chapter already has many ideas and thoughts, I am convinced that this is doable for me. I can do this!
     
    ·  If you are really stuck, here’s something that works for kinesthetic learners and writers. Get up and move. Pace the floor. Go for a walk or run. But you have to think about your topic while you do this. This is not a break from writing. It’s using movement to come up with what you need to write. (I had a colleague whose office was next to the school’s track. When working on a manuscript, he’d run a mile around the track, then go back and write a section. Then get up and run around the track again, then write the next section. Another colleague told me that when she was writing her dissertation at the University of Minnesota, she scraped all the wallpaper off her mom’s dining room. Now apparently her mom wanted the wallpaper removed. But Cheryl would write a while, get stuck, scrape a while, and get the next paragraph set in her brain. Then she could sit down and have it flow out.) So if you have a kinesthetic learning/writing style, try this. But remember, moving and running and scraping wallpaper are not writing. You still must write at least 90 minutes every day.
     
    ·  You’ve been writing for almost a month now; how’s it going? Remember, once you start writing, you will get ideas prompted by the process of writing. So don’t be afraid to start writing each day. Even when you have nothing in your head to write, when you start writing – the nonsense suggested above or your crappy first draft -- the cognitive processes change when you think and write rather than just think about what you will write. (I started writing a new chapter today and had no idea at all how to start it. No clue or ideas at all even after thinking about it off and on for 3 days (while I was writing something else.) But once I started typing I got three great introductory pages that only occurred to me after I started typing. So really, just start writing.)
     
    ·  If you’re stuck, don’t call it writer’s block. “Academic writers cannot get writer’s block….You’re not crafting a deep narrative or composing metaphors that explore mysteries of the human heart. The subtlety of your analysis of variance will not move readers to tears, although the tediousness of it might….Writer’s block is nothing more than the behavior of not writing….The cure for writer’s block…is writing” (Silvia, 2007, pp. 44-45). “Just as aliens abduct only people who believe in alien abductions, writer’s block strikes only people who believe in it” (p.47).
     
    ·  If you want to read about another writer who suggests a way to become more productive, by writing only two pages a day, see “The Considerable Satisfaction of 2 Pages a Day.” But remember, reading about writing is not writing. You still must write.


Parini, J. (2008, April 5). The considerable satisfaction of two pages a day. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Retrieved on July 13, 2012

Silvia, P. (2007). How to write a lot: A practical guide to productive academic writing. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

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Some of the information in the BreakWriting postings is drawn from previously published work, and I have tried to properly attribute the ideas and work of others. If I fail to do so, please tell me so I can clarify and correct (Graduate Mentor).

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