Writing tip: Overcoming writer's block

Theresa Bell
Writing tip: Overcoming writer's block

Have you ever experienced writer’s block? The feeling of being stuck while writing happens to most writers at some point; please see below for some quick tips for overcoming writer’s block. For a more in-depth version of this list, please visit “Overcoming Writer’s Block” on the Writing Centre website.

Try something different

Take a break and do something different - ideally, something away from your computer. Also, change your location or environment to minimize distractions.

Use your strengths

If you're an introvert, consider if there are elements of your topic that require more thinking to help you express them. If you’re an extrovert, try talking to someone. If you’re more comfortable talking than writing, try Speech-to-text tools to capture your ideas. Finally, try writing at a time of day that tends to be high energy and creative for you.

Identify the goals of the writing

If you’re stuck because you’re unsure of the goals of the document, ask for information from someone who can clarify the expectations (e.g., instructor, advisor, journal editor). See Understand the Assignment for more information.

Plan the document

Creating a detailed plan for your document (e.g., outline, mind-map) means you can write any section at any point in the process. If you’re feeling stuck in one section, refer to your plan and then try writing a different section. For more information, please see Planning the Paper.

Address having insufficient or too much information

Insufficient information: Return to the goals of the work and/or your document plan to identify what information is missing. Then, seek out the necessary information, whether that is in your primary research or in other works.

Too much information: Use your document plan to decide which information to remove. When in doubt, take it out; if the removal doesn’t detract from the discussion, the information wasn’t essential.

Manage your time

Worrying about meeting deadlines can cause tremendous stress. Use time management techniques and tools like the Assignment Calculator to keep you on track. Also, use your document plan to determine everything you need to get done, and then make a schedule for how you’re going to achieve those deliverables before your deadline.

Resist perfectionism

A perfect first draft is an unrealistic goal, so aiming for perfection can cause high levels of stress. Aim for the first draft to simply capture your ideas; subsequent reviews can focus on polishing the text. If the feedback from your spell checker is distracting, turn off the function while you’re typing.

Seek inspiration

If your topic isn’t engaging you, try drawing upon a source of inspiration, such as another work or a personal connection that is related to your topic. Everyone needs a pep talk now and then, so try asking family and friends for encouragement.

Ask for help

  • Verbally describe your topic and what’s blocking you to someone else, and invite that person to ask you questions about anything that doesn’t make sense. It’s likely that the process of explaining your work to someone else will unlock the discussion for you.
  • Ask if your instructor or advisor would be willing to provide formative feedback. Feeling more confident about the direction and approach of your writing is an excellent way to overcome writer’s block.
  • Connect with other authors to reduce feelings of isolation. Everyone experiences writer’s block at some point, and other authors will be able to understand the experience as well as share suggestions for how to move past the block.
  • Ask your personal support system (e.g., friends, family, co-workers, colleagues) for encouragement.
  • Contact the Writing Centre if we can provide any assistance.

Do you have questions about this tip or any other writing matter? Please contact the Writing Centre as we would be pleased to assist you.

Theresa Bell
Writing centre coordinator