Progress not perfection: power through writer’s block

A writing pad and pen

The campus is quieter these days. Most of the students are finishing up with exams and deadlines. I’m not too sure what other HDR students are doing over the break but I’ll be writing.

I’ve finished collecting all my data and now it’s down to the real scholarly work of analysis. “Scholarly”, what does that even mean? I do a quick look up via Google (yes, not very scholarly of me) and it comes up with results that define it as “involving or relating to serious academic study”. I guess now I’m down to some serious work and I need some serious motivation to power through writing blocks. Here are a few tips that have worked for me and my peers. (Bonus: I’ve included a whole heap of motivational quotes at the bottom of this post.)

Mind map. Sometimes the words just aren’t there and instead of keeping myself stuck, I try to use a visual alternative to chart my thoughts and ideas. I find that after a few minutes in, the keywords become phrases, and the phrases become sentences. It doesn’t take too long until I find my writing momentum.

Treats. Set a goal and promise to treat yourself as soon as you achieve it. It might even be worth writing each treat on a small piece of paper or a card and putting them all in a small box. Each time you accomplish a task you’ve set for yourself, pick a card from this box.

Re-read your glory piece. Remind yourself, you’ve got this. You’ve accomplished so many of your goals already. Re-read a piece of written work you’re really proud of.

Wash the dishes. Just take a 5-minute break and step away from your writing. Mostly we find that taking a break to do an easy task, like washing the dishes, allows us to keep some of our thoughts on our writing while permitting us the opportunity of thinking about it from a different perspective. 

Visit the library. Take a walk through the shelves. Read something relevant or read something irrelevant. The important thing is, you are giving yourself a brain break while also being open to some inspiration.

Write when it’s cold. Write when it’s 4 in the morning and distractions are at a minimum. Well, maybe have a nice, steaming cup of coffee first. You don’t literally have to write this early but if you’re finding yourself stuck, writing at a different time to when you normally write might help, and writing in the chilly, early morning might spark some different ideas.

Have some motivation juice. What is motivation juice, you say? Well I guess anything that encourages you to keep going or reminds you to keep your eye on the prize. Do you have a playlist you use when you’re in the gym? Maybe put together a playlist that encourages you to keep going when writing is extra challenging. Do you have a vision board? Do you like quotes? Maybe some of these below might help. 

  • "You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page" - Jodi Picoult
  • "You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club." - Jack London
  • "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” - Robert Frost
  • "The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do." - Thomas Jefferson
  • "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by." - Douglas Adams
  • "If you have no critics, you’ll likely have no success." - Malcolm X
  • "If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word." - Margaret Atwood
  • “Words are a lens to focus one’s mind.” - Ayn Rand

I’ve recently joined “Shut Up and Write Sessions” and found them really helpful. With changes to restrictions given the pandemic, perhaps virtual "Shut Up and Write Sessions" would still be useful. Are there any effective strategies you’ve used in the past to crush writer’s block? Tag us on IG @uofastudentwellbeing

Tagged in What messes with your head, writing, phd