What to Do When the Words Just Aren’t Flowing

My advice for combating writer’s block

Allison Heithoff, Editor-in-Chief of Quintessence

You are staring at a blank document, the blinking cursor taunting your lack of type and your tired eyes burning from the harshly lit screen. Yet, no matter how long you look, not a single coherent phrase comes to mind… nothing. This predicament, more commonly known as writer’s block, is one of the most frustrating obstacles because it affects everybody at some time or another, but no “one-cures-all” solution seems to exist.

However, there are a variety of practical solutions out there that I’ve picked up through experience; They all involve ways to get you doing something because the worse thing you can do is waste time staring at the blank document when obviously nothing is coming. So here’s what they are:

Go on a Walk

While I usually try to tell myself I don’t have time for this, especially under pressure, it is consistently the best solution I’ve found to clear my mind. Going outside and getting your body moving not only takes your mind off writing, but it also allows you to physically escape everything weighing you down. Pop in some headphones, cue up your favorite song or motivational playlist, and maybe even walk on a path you’ve never taken before. If it is too late at night or too cold outside, then still get up and walk around. Sitting still when your mind is paralyzed from orchestrating a sentence is quite honestly the worst thing you can do.

Talk to Somebody

Writer’s block is often difficult to get out of because you feel at the time that you are the only one facing it. People often keep this dilemma to themselves just waiting for it to pass, but as with any other problem, talking about it helps tremendously. Especially when it comes to circumstances where creativity is needed, brainstorming ideas with anybody you view as creative or inspiring helps to get the ball rolling again. These people often help to voice ideas you are struggling to string together.

Organize and Outline

Remember the wonderful days of writing where teachers required you to write an outline for every paper? Well, while I ignore this step when I’m not struggling for words, it is an extremely effective method when you’ve got absolutely nothing on a page. Instead of trying to just free write, mapping out a short list of points you want to cover or topics from a rubric in an organized sequence gives structure to an otherwise empty paper. Writing once you have specific checkpoints to hit, such as these, is far easier that the daunting task of waiting to come up with the next thing to say after finishing one line or paragraph.

Write for Brief Amounts of Time

If at all possible, and assuming you haven’t procrastinated until two hours before a paper is due, breaking up a paper into sections to write at different times makes the task at hand significantly smaller than trying to write the whole thing at once, which often sparks writer’s block to begin with. Also, writing something and then coming back to it later or the next day allows you to look at it with fresh eyes. It may also spur an idea you hadn’t thought of before.

I hope you take what I’ve learned from the multitude of occasions I’ve encountered writer’s block and are able to apply it to your own situation. I completely understand the frustration and feeling of helplessness that often comes about unannounced, but I am confident that at least one of these methods can help you the same way it has helped me.