Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Defeating Writer's Block

Writer's block, depicted as a shadowy monster, stands in front of a brick wall.
What can you do to overcome writer's block?
On the final exam for my composition classes, I like to stick in a few tension-cutting questions that make students smile and help them relax into the rest of the test.

The question I ask about writer's block never initially was intended to generate one of those smiles, let alone the giggles it sometimes receives.  That question goes something like this:

When you find yourself with nothing to say about a particular topic and staring at a blank sheet of paper the day before an essay is due, what can you do to overcome your writer's block?


A. Stay up all night staring at a blank sheet of paper until inspiration hits.

B. Plagiarize or buy a paper online and hope like heck you don't get caught.

C. Go to bed and take the zero because there is nothing you can do to overcome writer's block.

D. Take a shower, dance around, drink some coffee, and write about something else for a while.


Do you know the best answer?  Let's examine the options.


ANSWER A: Stay up all night staring at a blank sheet of paper until inspiration hits.


Plagiarism is never the answer!
First, I will say that for some lucky souls, staying up all night staring at a blank sheet of paper until inspiration hits might work. More likely than not, however, this will lead only to sleeping in front of the computer or the completion of a particularly terrible paper. It would be better to do something active, as action begets more action.  "Staring" and "waiting" are not effective actions.


ANSWER B: Plagiarize or buy a paper online and hope like heck you don't get caught.


Definitely not.  An act of academic dishonesty will very rarely get by a professor undetected. Not only will plagiarism earn a student a zero on the assignment, but that student will then have to face the displeasure of a professor who has wasted a lot of extra time having to fill out paperwork that basically says that the student cheated. It only takes twenty to thirty minutes to grade a paper, but it takes over an hour and a half to turn in a student for cheating.


ANSWER C: Go to bed and take the zero because there is nothing you can do to overcome writer's block.


When all else fails, some students will choose to take a zero rather than fight the ugly writer's block monster. What I tell my students is that anything is better than a "goose egg," and I demonstrate my point by displaying a line chart with the course grade on the "Y" axis and the number of missed assignments in the "X" axis. When students accept zeros, or "goose eggs," grades plummet, as my line chart shows.


ANSWER D: Take a shower, dance around, drink some coffee, and write about something else for a while.


Give your brain a break!
Believe it or not, this is the correct answer. When faced with writer's block, it's always a fine idea to get up and move around, get refreshed, and write about something else for a little while - it all depends on a person's time management skills. If a student has procrastinated, he or she may not have a lot of time for some off-topic writing, but it's still important. Students may find they can sometimes find inspiration in that "something else" they choose to write about, or they may come up with a brilliant thesis statement in the moment when they're relaxing their minds a bit.


The secret to defeating writer's block is quite simple.  In order to overcome writer's block, a person has to write through it. The answer is in the semantics. If a person is writing, it really can't be called "writer's block" anymore, can it?



Want to read more about writing essays?  Try

Myths about Writing Essays
Outlining an Essay
Writing an Argumentative Essay





Copyright Amy Lynn Hess. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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