Writer’s Block

You sit down to start writing your research paper and what happens?  Every great idea you had disappears from your mind like a rabbit in a magicians hat.  Just gone.  What’s left is you staring at a cursor taunting you with every blink.  The goal of this post is to explore what causes writer’s block.  Once you understand the cause of writer’s block, you can develop tools to get you un-stuck quickly.

What Causes Writer’s Block?


Writing something down forces us to commit our thoughts to an audience.  But, commitment often causes fear because we may be afraid of being wrong, looking uneducated, or downright stupid.  The fear of being judged is a major roadblock to writing and life generally.  Everyone I know, including myself, deals with the fear of “putting yourself out there” for the world to see.  No one likes feeling vulnerable!  But here’s the great news about fear – familiarity destroys fear.  Once you know that no one will judge you, your fear will evaporate.

The best way to eliminate fear initially is to push through it and determine to turn in your best work.  You need to know that your best work may not get you an A on your paper – at least when you first begin writing – but it won’t get you an F.  Eliminate fear through knowledge, determination, and practice.  In a short amount of time, you will begin to know that you are good enough to turn in solid writing.

Facebook and Company

Facebook probably isn’t causing typical writer’s block, but it’s probably keeping you from being productive.  Add to the list Instagram, Twitter, Google Plus, and every other social media site out there.  I love social media, but not when I need to get stuff done!  From a psychological point of view, we often subconsciously choose distractions to keep us from facing a deeper underlying problem.  If we don’t eliminate distractions, we will never face the real problem behind our lack of productivity.  At this point can I just confess that I check Facebook too often?  Commit to only checking social media after 8 p.m. – if you are constantly restraining yourself throughout the day, there are probably other tasks you are trying to avoid using social media.  Disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist, I just play one on the internet.

Lack of Inspiration

What?  You don’t want to write about egalitarianism in the 17th century?  Yeah, me neither.  In order to earn a degree, we are often pushed into taking classes we are not interested in.  Writing assignments in those classes can kill any inspiration to write.  The class is boring, the teacher puts you to sleep, and the last thing you want to do on a Sunday night is spend the last three hours of your weekend thinking about that class.  The good news is that there are a few “games” you can play to help you get your paper done.

  • Set a Timer: In college, setting a timer really helped me get through boring papers.  There’s some good ones that you can download onto your computer.  Set the timer for 20 minute increments and commit to building your paper for those 20 minutes.  Once the 20 minutes is up stop working and take a 10 minute break.  After 10 minutes is up, set the timer for 20 minutes again and begin working.  Try changing your location (if you’re working on a laptop or tablet (iPads are awesome for this).
  • Set a Reward: When I was in graduate school, I decided to take 24 credit hours my first semester.  I calculated that, on average, I had over 100 pages of reading per night.  I knew that if I was going to get out of graduate school with any semblance of sanity, my time management and perspective were going to have to change.  I got a new job behind a counter of a GNC in the evenings.  Because I would only get 2-3 customers to help, I could get a lot of reading done.  I also set rewards for my accomplishments.  Not vacations or cars, but something simple like – if I got a paper written by Friday night, I would allow myself all of Sunday free to watch football.  Sometimes looking forward to something can motivate you to do things you don’t like doing, just for the reward.
  • Understand Vision: Allowing yourself the space to think about who you are becoming may sound like “psycho-babble” but understanding that pushing yourself with things that don’t come easy is highly rewarding – even if it doesn’t feel like it.  In her article about exercises to build mental strength, My Say writes:

“Being mentally strong doesn’t mean you don’t experience emotions. In fact, mental strength requires you to become acutely aware of your emotions so you can make the best choice about how to respond. Mental strength is about accepting your feelings without being controlled by them. Mental strength also involves an understanding of when it makes sense to behave contrary to your emotions. For example, if you experience anxiety that prevents you from trying new things or accepting new opportunities, try stepping out of your comfort zone if you want to continue to challenge yourself. Tolerating uncomfortable emotions takes practice, but it becomes easier as your confidence grows.”


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