You hear the tick of the clock and the whir of the dishwasher as your house sleeps and you stare at your blank screen. Mom and Dad turned in a while ago, followed shortly by your older brother. Your eyes are tired, but you’re meeting with your college counselor tomorrow morning to go over the college essay topics that remains unwritten. You’re supposed to be finding your voice and sharing your story, but all your thoughts are stuck.
No worries. I can help you unblock. As a writer and a college application adviser, I know a few tricks that have unstuck the most stubborn bouts of writer’s block.
So, try these six tips, unblock, and write that rockin’ college admissions essay.
1. Get off your bed and out of your room!
Time to move out of your comfort zone. Step out of your room, off your bed, away from your comfortable, go-to spot. Move to your sister’s room, the library, Mom’s office, or the closest bookstore. Just move! Say good-bye to your old routine. Your new spot can unlock your brain and let your stories and your voice shine through.
Turn off Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Vines, text alerts, e-mails, sports updates. Close them all. You can reconnect later, but for now, shut it down. Social media is one of the biggest distractors for the writing process. When you’ve written that first draft of your essay and take that much-needed break, you can give yourself a timed-reconnect as your reward.
3. Put the pen to the paper!
As a writer, when the words are stuck, I resort to tradition. I pick up a lined pad and pen. For some reason, the paper feels less permanent, less threatening, less committal. I’m freer to express myself. And, if I hate it, I can rip it up and begin again. Give the pad a try.
4. Open a new doc!
Not a fan of paper? Open a new document on your computer or tablet, but don’t title it college essay. Just call it thoughts. See if that no-pressure space helps the flow of your ideas.
Nothing gets the brain moving like a run/walk/dance around the room. Go for a jog. Take your dog for a walk around the block. If you don’t want the full exercise commitment, do twenty jumping jacks or ten push-ups. Still not convinced? Put on your favorite tunes and dance like crazy for a few minutes. Whatever your chosen activity, just get your heart rate up. It will clear your head and let your ideas float to the surface.
6. Talk it out!
Still stuck. Let’s talk. Pick up the phone and call a friend, parent, sibling, college essay adviser. Whoever you select, just pick someone you trust who you feel comfortable talking to. When I’m stuck writing dialog or a scene in one of my stories, and I’ve stared at my blank screen for a respectable period of time, tried the paper routine, the new doc, and taken my dog, Oscar, for a good long walk, I know it’s time to start talking. I phone a friend and tell her what I’m trying to say. Her questions, answers, and thoughts let me see my writing through a different lens. Nothing uncorks like a good conversation.
Now you are ready. It’s time. Write that first draft of your essay. When you’re done, let’s talk revision.
Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all.
It happens to every writer. It’s inevitable. Your prose has turned to mush, you don’t have a creative bone left in your body, and you want to throw in the towel.
Writer’s block. Every writer struggles with it. But what you do with it is what really matters. Before we talk about solutions, though, let’s talk about the problem.
Common causes of writer’s block
The reasons for your block may vary, but some common ones include:
- Timing: It’s simply not the right time to write. Your ideas may need to stew a little longer before writing them down.
- Fear: Many writers struggle with being afraid, with putting their ideas (and themselves) out there for everyone to see and critique. Fear is a major reason some writers never become writers.
- Perfectionism: You want everything to be just right before you ever put pen to paper or touch a keyboard. You try to get it perfect in your head and never do, so you never begin. To help you through this, we created Don’t Hit Publish. It’s a free tool that tells you if your blog post is good enough to publish and also give you tips on how to improve it.
So how do we vanquish this enemy?
It’s a tough question to answer, and I’m afraid I don’t have a great solution. I’ve personally wrestled with writer’s block on many occasions, and each victory looked different.
That’s the thing about writing: it’s an art, not a science. And you’ll have to approach it as such. There is no formulaic fix, no “7 Steps to Becoming a Better Writer Now.”
Well, except one. But you already know what it is: Start hacking away. Begin trying stuff. Sometimes, the quirkier, the better. The trick is find something that works for you.
Creative solutions to writer’s block
Here are a few ideas to help you work through your creative constipation:
- Go for a walk.
- Eliminate distractions (I use Ommwriter to focus on just writing).
- Do something to get your blood flowing. (I like running.)
- Play. (My personal preference is LEGOS.)
- Change your environment.
- Read a book.
- Listen to music (try classical or jazz to mix it up).
- Brew some coffee (my personal favorite).
- Create a routine. Many famous writers have daily routines to summon the Muse.
- Spend time with someone who makes you feel good.
- Call an old friend.
- Brainstorm ideas in bullet points.
- Read some inspiring quotes to get you started.
The possibilities are endless, but movement is critical. You need to generate momentum to get out of your funk.
Once you start heading in a direction, it’s easier to pick up speed. And before you know it, your block will be a distant memory and you’ll be doing what you once thought impossible. You’ll be writing.
How to not overcome writer’s block
And just for fun, here are some anti-solutions to this problem:
- You do not overcome writer’s block by refusing to write until you feel “inspired.”
- You do not overcome writer’s block by wallowing in self-pity.
- You do not overcome writer’s block by procrastinating or making excuses.
- You do not overcome writer’s block by watching TV.
- You do not overcome writer’s block by reading articles on how to overcome writer’s block. (Kinda shot myself in the foot there, huh?)
The fail-proof solution
If you’re still not satisfied, you have one last resort, an ace up your sleeve. The silver bullet solution. The fail-proof way to overcome writer’s block is one you already know. In fact, you’ve been avoiding it this whole time, because it’s precisely what you don’t want to hear.
Start somewhere, anywhere. Write a few lines. Say anything. And see what happens. Don’t think about it too much or make any fancy announcements. Just write. It doesn’t need to be eloquent or presentable; it just needs to be written..
Write for the joy of writing. Because you can’t not do it. Don’t try to say or produce anything; just get some words on paper, now. No excuses or justifications.
You can write. Don’t make it harder than it has to be. Just type a few words. They don’t have to be good (all first drafts suck). It just has to be written. Then you have something to work it. You can tweak from there.
If you do this, you’ll get past the hump. I promise. The difference between professional writers and amateurs is this: Both encounter blocks, but one pushes through while the other gets paralyzed.
You can do this. Just write.
(One caveat: This technique only works if you’re truly blocked and not “empty,” which is an entirely different matter altogether.)
How do you overcome writer’s block? Share in the comments.
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