Writer's block got you down? Take it as an opportunity to become a better writer! (Image via Tim Gouw)

How Writer’s Block Can Actually Make You a Better Writer

Acing class and becoming a better writer along the way? Challenge accepted.
February 13, 2018
12 mins read

As you navigate through your years of college, it is inevitable that you will be assigned a paper to write. Indeed, there will be several instances in which the assigned paper will represent a huge portion of your grade. Sometimes writing does not go as perfectly as we have envisioned it to and it is very likely you will experience writer’s block in college.

For those who don’t know, writer’s block happens when you feel like you can’t come up with ideas to write about. Gathered below are common causes of writer’s block and ways to help you clear different obstacles you may face.

Don’t wait for everyone else to raise their hand before you raise yours (Image via Edwin Andrade)

Having trouble coming up with a topic?

Many classes require students to narrow down a broad topic or come up with their own. Coming up with a narrow topic can be difficult and can lead to students having writer’s block. One approach that might help is to take advantage of your course materials.

Rereading lecture notes or the course textbook can help you come up with an applicable narrow topic. Although it is easy to forget about it, the reference page in the course textbook may help you find possible research materials that focus on a specific topic.

A second strategy is to talk about any ideas that you may have. Many times talking about your ideas and thoughts with your friends, classmates or professor can help you strengthen your topic.

Once you have an idea of what you want your topic to be, make sure it is very specific. If the topic is too vague, it can cause you to struggle. A specific topic makes it easier to hone your focus rather than overwhelmingly trying to touch base on everything in your paper.

Are the instructions for the assignment hard to understand?

Another reason you might experience writer’s block in college is that you are unclear on what the assignment is asking you to do. The simplest way to prevent this from happening is to ask any questions you may have when the professor first hands out the instructions for the assignment.

If you have any questions, speak up and ask them. Chances are if you have questions, other students might need clarification as well. Don’t wait for another person to ask, take action and save yourself a lot of headaches down the road.

One helpful strategy is to look for keywords or phrases which might help you figure out what you need to do. You will be able to locate these keywords from the assignment’s description, your syllabus, assigned reading or the class calendar. A few examples of words you should keep an eye out for include: discuss, argue, analyze, compare and provide evidence.

Have you done enough research?

Your writer’s block in college might stem from a need to do more research or review the research you have already done. Usually, it is enormously helpful to begin your search at the source of your campus’ knowledge: the library. If you have difficulties finding what you need, not to worry, a librarian can help you find research materials that will help you with your assignment.

A stellar strategy you should consider is rereading passages from the research materials you have already gathered. After touching base on the materials, write down any important or recurring ideas that could be used as evidence. It is important to write these down in your own words so that you can gain a better understanding of the material.

Have you done too much research?

Many times when you have conducted a lot of research on a topic, it can be a bit overwhelming to start working on your first draft. It might be difficult to know where to start. To combat this, try to create a narrow research question that can be answered within the assigned word limit.

The ideal question will help you figure out which parts of your research would be best to include in your paper and how you want to structure it. Another tactic is to meditate on which points are most important to the topic and write them down in a list. By doing this, you will have a concrete set of examples to support your topic.

When writing in a new way, don’t be afraid to reach out for help (Image via Brad Neathery)

Are you writing in an unfamiliar genre?

When you’re writing in a genre that is new to you, it can be daunting to put pen to paper. For example, it might be hard to write a college lab report when this is your first time creating one. To save yourself some hassle, the first thing you should do is check the course or department website for examples and guidelines which show you how the paper should be formatted.

Asking your professors questions might be an obvious statement, but the value of doing so cannot be underplayed. A lot of issues can be solved if you just ask your professor; it is their job to know all the answers, or at least know where to direct you to find the answer.

Are you afraid of sounding dumb?

Expressing your ideas and thoughts can sometimes be difficult when you’re in college. Scrambling from class to class, with mounting schedules and deadlines along the way can often cause writer’s block in college. To combat this, you must first let go of the fear of sounding dumb.

Don’t pressure yourself into using unfamiliar words just because you think they will make you sound smarter. The only thing you should focus on is writing down your ideas and thoughts clearly. One method you may want to try is a free writing exercise. The only thing you need to focus on is writing down your ideas and thoughts clearly.

To improve your thinking, a method you might want to try is free writing. According to MIT, free-writing is a process “similar to brainstorming but it is written in sentence and paragraph form without stopping.” To begin the process, open up a blank Word document or grab a fresh piece of paper.

Next, set a timer for five minutes and write down anything that comes to mind about your topic. Don’t stop writing and don’t stress out about grammar errors until the timer stops. When you are finished, look over your document and find important ideas. Doing this might help you present the most important ideas clearly in your paper’s final draft.

Like with many assignments you have in college, it is also important you allow yourself enough time to edit the assignment. By giving yourself time to improve your word choice and focus, your paper will be better thought out and substantial.

Are you having trouble writing the introduction?

The introduction can sometimes be the most frustrating part of the paper to write. After all, those first few lines can set the tone for the rest of the paper. There are two vastly opposing tactics that might help you in this process. One idea is to try to write the introduction last; after you have written the paper, you may have a better understanding of what you want to introduce.

However, if you are the type of person who can’t write the rest of the paper without an introduction, write one quickly just to get started on the rest of the paper. Don’t worry about it being perfect right away; once you have finished the rest of the paper, you can go back and edit the introduction. Although there is not one method that is better than another, it is possible to find a method which works best for you.

If all else fails, step away from your paper for a well-deserved break (Image via Anthony Tran)

Are other aspects of your life distracting you from school?

Every college student has a life outside of school. Sometimes, other responsibilities and stress might distract you from focusing on the assignment. After all, there are instances in which you may just need to take a break.

You aren’t helping yourself or your impending due dates by struggling to work while exhausted. Try to eat, workout, take a nap or go for a walk to give yourself a much-needed mental chill out session. Even better, time away from the paper might allow you to come back with new ideas with a fresh perspective.

Once you return to your work, go somewhere where you won’t be bothered. By turning off your phone and tuning out distractions with a free mind, you will be able to write a paper that’ll knock your professor’s socks off!

Plamedie Ifasso, Texas Woman’s University

Writer Profile

Plamedie Ifasso

Texas Woman's University
Creative Writing

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