It’s 1 a.m. and you decide to finally start that paper you’ve been putting off all week, two days before it’s due. Armed with your espresso, noise-canceling headphones on, you’re ready to work hard and complete the assignment. Unfortunately for you, this initial motivation is short-lived. Before you know it, an hour has gone by and you’ve managed to write two sentences. You stare at the blank document for what seems like an eternity, but your mind is blank. The ideas just aren’t flowing. Sound familiar? This happens to the best of us. Once writer’s block has gripped you, it’s difficult, but not impossible to shake it off.
Often, what prevents you from starting is fear. You’re tasked with writing six or more pages, and the mountain before you appears so insurmountable that you feel like giving up even before you’ve begun. In these situations, I’ve found that what works best for me is breaking up the long, daunting paper into smaller, more easily achievable chunks. Rather than telling yourself that you’re going to write a complete paper, make shorter goals. Start the writing process by telling yourself, “let me just get the introductory paragraph done,” rather than pushing yourself to complete everything in a couple of hours. It doesn’t have to be perfect (more on that later); just get into the groove of writing with this “divide and conquer” technique.
Sometimes, you just don’t know where to begin. You might have a million ideas in your head, but you’re unable to translate them on paper. This points to a lack of mapping out your thoughts before starting. The best way to combat this is to get out a pen and some scratch paper and make a rough outline of your essay. I like to jot down the main ideas of each paragraph, including a couple of sources to strengthen my argument. Once you’ve organized the major themes and evidence supporting them, you’re ready to tackle the paper! This rough outline you’ve created is not set in stone. As you begin writing, you will find more ideas flowing in, and it’s OK to go back and revise!
Lastly, the biggest obstacle standing in your way is your inner critic. You might have done all the readings, figured out your thesis statement and have the most elaborate layout of how you’re going to go about writing. None of this will help you, however, unless you tune out your inner perfectionist. You cannot expect the words to flow exactly the way you want it to the very first time! That’s why it’s called the first draft. Writing is a revision-heavy process. It involves coming back to your drafts, reading it with fresh eyes and making changes. The first time you write doesn’t have to be perfect.
And if all else fails, just start writing. You might be wondering why I’m telling you to write when you’re here because you’re unable to do so in the first place. But the hardest part is starting. So set a timer for five minutes and just start.
What are you still waiting for? Time to get cracking on that paper for your R1B class!
Contact Nandita Radhakrishnan at [email protected].