Roslyn Ko, CUNY Writing Fellow
The deadline is coming up. You simply cannot write, despite the fact that you have been sitting in front of the computer the whole day, or the whole night, or, worse, for two days and two nights, and still have been unable to write anything, achieve anything in writing, except for staring at the computer screen. Nothing would come out. Period.
The fear of Writer's Block is shared by both professional and non-professional, experienced and inexperienced writers. And yet, Writer's Block proves that writing, albeit it may require certain amount of technical training and (self-)discipline, cannot be all mechanical, that it cannot be mechanically produced and reproduced at any time under any circumstance. In the best circumstances, writing flows naturally, almost like a living thing, but sometimes it just doesn't happen. Writer’s Block also suggests that writing does not come out of nothing and nowhere. It points to the fact that writing is, in fact, a process of engaging oneself in certain larger conversations about something, namely some issue or topic. It implies that the brain needs a rest, requires new food for thought, and, perhaps, calls for a shift to a new angle, a new way of looking at things, thinking about problems, or seeking relationships among seemingly disparate elements or keys.
What can you do when you encounter Writer's Block? Perhaps try to:
- Stay away from your computer screen or work desk, not for good, but for a relaxing while;
- Find something else to do for temporary distraction and relaxation (e.g., to watch or do sports) because an idea may just crop up when it is the least expected;
- Come back to work only when you feel reinvigorated, mind and body;
- Scribble down anything that comes into your mind in forms of single words, short paragraphs or bullet points (the point here is to keep writing things down, regardless of their order or apparent lack of logic);
- Establish some physical space between the things you wrote before and the things you are about to scribble down, such as inserting half or one page of white space in between your old and new thoughts (the purpose here is not to keep your mind and your sight too focused on what you wrote before that led to a temporary or permanent dead end);
- Find out the relationships among the things (ideas, concepts, key terms, partial or whole arguments, etc.) you scribble down and things you wrote or contemplated before, by organizing them into lists, charts, or thought bubbles;
- read some new and related material to your topic or issue (search for a new article or criticism which may provide food for thought);
- identify and discuss the nature of your Writer’s Block with someone you can talk to, such as your family members, friends, classmates, teachers, etc. (the point here is to engage yourself in a conversation or communication about your work progress, interest, argument, dead end and the like because writing is about thoughts and thoughts involve conversation and communication).
The most important thing is to do your best not to escape or become paralyzed by Writer’s Block. The best thing is to keep writing—to continue engaging yourself in the process of writing (such as drafting, revising or simply brainstorming about ideas).
Writer’s Block does not mean “the end.” On the contrary, you may want to translate Writer’s Block into a useful moment when you can re-focus your argument, find a new solution and brainstorm about relationships among ideas or issues. Writer’s Block is not about you being a successful or poor writer. It involves a practical question that anyone may run into: “What is next in line of my argument that I want to or can develop at this point? What is the point that I really want to get across to my reader and I have not yet done? Where and what is this new possibility that I can turn to so that I can resume communicating my ideas and thoughts to my reader?” So, what next?