I genuinely think academic writer’s block is a real thing (some say it’s an alternative term for procrastination). You have the ideas all in your head, but when it comes to the practical task of getting the writing done it just doesn’t seem to quite happen. I can openly say that I have experienced this at several points during my master’s programme, and I found this increased during lockdown. Minutes turn to hours and hours to days. But no matter how hard you try, every time you sit down to do your work, you don’t seem to make the progress that you desire and you end up occupying your time with other things. If you have experienced any of the above I would like to give you some tips to help you get out of this space and get you closer to meeting that upcoming deadline. Please note that these tips are in no particular order and you can select the points that are most suitable for you:
- Identify your main distractions and get rid of them! In this period I have found myself swiping from app to app, twitter to Instagram, the occasional peek at Snapchat and the cycle starts again. I, therefore, had to delete the apps that were taking up most of my time, and sometimes I turn my phone off altogether. Distractions can be anything, from social media to a messy workspace, do what you can to avoid such distractions during times that you want to work. Also if your distractions are people that you are living with, be it family or friends, please don’t get rid of them, but try and study at times where they cannot distract you, late at night or in the early hours of the morning.
- If you feel like your thoughts are overwhelming find the best outlet to release them. Writing is often my go to as I am an avid journaler, so I usually write out how I am feeling. Other outlets to release overwhelming thoughts can be singing, drawing, speaking out loud (be mindful of this one in public spaces lol) and speaking to close family or friends. There are ways beyond this but these are a few suggestions.
- Take a well deserved and productive break. Sometimes we waste time being unproductive by lamenting on how unproductive we have been. If you still have sufficient time before an upcoming deadline and you are struggling to make progress, take an intentional break. It’s better to take a break for a few hours or even days and come back refreshed and rejuvenated, ready to face the task ahead. In your break spend time doing things that allow you to relax. Perhaps you can go on a walk, get out of your space and get some fresh air.
- Just do it, just write. Even if your writing is all over the place and unrefined, this is not the final piece. So if you’re someone that is a perfectionist (like myself), let that all go at the initial stage and get in the flow of writing. When proofreading and revising your work, perfectionism will then come in handy.
- Look for a documentary on the subject you are writing on. Sometimes when I don’t feel like writing or reading, I watch. I’m currently doing my dissertation on Human Trafficking and I must say that YouTube is a great resource, I also found a few films on Netflix, which broadened my knowledge in the subject area. As with any other information, if you would like to use the information you come across from a documentary, be sure to check the validity of the source. But please, there is a time and place for this tip. If you only have a few days till a big deadline please kindly skip to tip number 6!
- Set incredibly achievable goals, break down what you need to do into mini-steps and monitor your achievements. Sometimes planning a day in advance (before going to bed) or for the week ahead (on a Sunday evening) can be helpful, so when you want to work, you know exactly what you should be working on.
- Question yourself or write pointers. For instance, for the introduction of my dissertation when planning it, I initially started by asking myself questions of all information that would be expected in my dissertation in reference to my topic. Some questions I asked myself were: What is Human Trafficking?; What are key stats and figures?; Why is it important to International Development?… You get the drift, but essentially writing these prompts definitely aided me in the writing process.
- Use voice dictation typing. This feature is available on both Google Docs and Microsoft Word. When you are struggling to write, sometimes it can be easier to dictate your thoughts. Voice dictation typing may not always be accurate but you can always edit what has been written. If you want to use this feature I would recommend watching a YouTube guide which will show you how to use it properly.
- Speak to friends on your course or friends who are also studying. Share your challenges with them and they may be able to give you good advice based on their experiences (I got tip number 7 through having a conversation with a friend).
- Get an accountability partner, someone that you trust – It can be a course mate, a friend outside of your studies or a family member. But essentially set goals, share it with them and then report back to them on your progress. This can be done on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, depending on the deadline and your personal preferences. It helps if they’re also working towards something so they can be accountable to you.
I hope this list has been helpful and even if you haven’t experienced a writer’s block, perhaps you can share this with a friend who has. Please note that this is not an extensive list, there are several more ways to overcome academic writer’s block. Perhaps you can share some tips in the comments below – I would love to hear what has helped you.