Writer’s block

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Sometimes what helps me get over writer’s block is writing in a different place.

Now for others, the opposite is true. I recently surveyed other Ph.D. students to find out what some of their writer’s block hacks are and these were the most common ones:

  • Know one key thing you want to say – sometimes simplifying the task is a good first step. What do you want to say? Are you trying to communicate the findings of your research? Are you providing evidence that your research will provide an important contribution to your field (i.e. are you writing a literature review)? Are you summarising the aims of your paper? Word the task simply, and begin there.
  • Think about your audience – Is it a manuscript for a journal? Is it your thesis? Are you submitting this to The Conversation? Are you preparing a presentation at a conference? Think of your audience as you are writing and it can help make the task seem less daunting.
  • Don’t try to write something ground-breaking – just write. As difficult as it is, just start. For many, starting with a mind map is effective. Otherwise, writing in phrases as part of an outline also works. The phrases soon become sentences and the bullet points soon form paragraphs. Keep writing, keep forming, keep creating.
  • Focus on the task at hand – Write in discrete blocks of time. Use a Pomodoro timer if that’s helpful and/or join ‘shut up and write sessions’.

Writing in public libraries helps me get unstuck most of the time. I think it’s because when I get a bad case of writer’s block, I associate my office or my home office with the recent period of feeling overwhelmingly stuck in my writing process and not finding that I can write something new. A public library almost feels like a cue for me to start fresh and gives me an opportunity to reset my thinking. The other thing I find helpful when writing in a public library is the opportunity to take mini-breaks by reading something different.

I find children’s books often allow me much-needed shifts in perspective. Often times, they also communicate important life lessons. Here are some of my favourites in case you feel you need a perspective shift from all the complex issues of adulthood:

  • Don’t worry little crab by Chris Haughton – I might have to say that this book is one of my all-time favourites. It’s all about mustering the courage to go beyond fear.
  • Green eggs and ham by Dr Seuss – Most of you might have already enjoyed this one as a kid, but it’s a great story to remind myself to try new things.
  • From my head to my toes, I say what goes by Charlotte Barkla – A fun, but really important book exploring and identifying boundaries.
  • The mixed-up chameleon by Eric Carle – a great story highlighting why it’s great to be yourself.
  • All the ways to be smart by Davina Bell – it’s a light-hearted picture book depicting all the many talents of children and a wonderful reminder of celebrating everything that makes us unique.
  • Whoever you are by Mem Fox – it’s an essential book to showcase our diversity but also effectively shows us our shared humanity.
  • In my heart: a book of feelings by Jo Witek – a beautiful picture book that I wish adults would read too, to help us identify and be mindful of our feelings whether it’s sadness, calm, joy, or anger.
  • The Lorax by Dr Seuss – The main character, The Lorax, speaks for the trees and the story confronts environmental issues. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”
Tagged in What messes with your head, writing, Productivity, phd