It’s so weird to have August pass without starting school! This is the first time I celebrated my birthday without being in class. To celebrate the back to school season, I thought I would share some of my English major insider tips for overcoming writer’s block while in college. This can apply to both school papers, assignments, and even creative writing. Be sure to check out my tips from the writing center before you submit your essay!
As an English major, I wrote A LOT of papers. I mean A LOT. In addition to writing a million papers, I also worked as a writing tutor and as the Editor in Chief of my schools lit mag. Today, I actually am the editor of my own lit mag. My lit mag, Capulet Mag, is currently open to submissions for the Fall Edition, so check out the guidelines if you have any writing or art you’d like to share!
Writer’s block frequently plagues college students. Whether this is your first semester or your last, you’ve probably encountered writer’s block in some capacity. Writer’s block can lead to all-nighters and last minute papers which nobody wants.
As Margaret Atwood says, “If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” As someone who has faced writer’s block a million times and survived to tell the tale, I’ll share some tips for getting the words on the page.
Make an Outline
Outlines are especially important with college academic writing. Sometimes you’re overflowing with confusion and uncertainty. You have a few ideas, but nothing concrete, and you have no idea where to even begin! I get it, trust me. Creating an outline can help form your roadmap for going forward.
I’ve included my personal academic outline that I used when drafting my papers! This outline is simple but effective and it helps you get your ideas flowing in a concrete way.
As a writing tutor, I often helped students get started with their own papers. I found that a lot of students struggle to get the words on the paper without constantly editing themselves. Let me just tell you right now that editing does not belong in first drafts. Your first draft should just be about getting the words on the page, not about perfection.
“Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.”
― Jane Smiley
Don’t know where to start? Start by just writing what you know. Discuss the prompt, discuss what you know about the topic, just start writing. Get all your messy, wonderful ideas on the page and let them sit for a while. It’s okay. Nobody has to read it but you. Some of my best work has come from crappy first drafts. So has some of my worst. The idea is to just start writing to get the words flowing.
One of my favorite tools for writing without thinking is Write or Die, which I’ve discussed before on this blog. This online tool encourages you to write constantly to avoid loud noises and other terrifying disruptions. You can purchase the software for your computer or just use the free version which I recommend.
Another cool program to try is Ommwriter which is a pretty nifty program that helps block out all distractions while encouraging you to hone in on the experience of writing. It’s pretty affordable (6 euros), so definitely consider it if you suffer from chronic writer’s block.
Establish a Writing Routine
Most famous writers had a well-known writing routine to get their minds ready for the Muses. Famous Japanese author Haruki Murakami, for instance, wakes at four a.m. each day to start writing and claims this sense of repetition is essential. Short story writer Nathan Englander says all you need to do to write without distraction is turn off your phone. Come up with your own pre-writing rituals.
For me, it’s a cup of coffee and ambient music. Here are some ideas for creating your own routine:
- Go on a nice, long walk or run before sitting down at the computer.
- Transport yourself to a quiet coffee shop with these sound effects.
- Or to the Hogwarts library.
- Brew a cup of tea and get into comfortable clothes.
- Shut your door and put in earplugs.
If you sit down to write with no definitive goals, you might feel overwhelmed and unable to even begin. Setting goals is a good way to pace yourself. For instance, if you have to write a 5,000 word essay by Friday, perhaps just focus on writing 1,000 words each day for five days. Knowing you can stop once you reach 1,000 words will help keep your stress levels down.
I’ve always found that after writing 1,000 words or so, I’m not ready to stop yet, which is great! Usually, those starting goals get stretched and stretched until the project is done. Reward yourself by taking a break when you reach your goals!
Overcoming Writer’s Block in College
Don’t let yourself become another victim on writer’s block! It can trick you into waiting until the last minute to start your important papers, and that’s no fun! Turn off your phone, settle into a routine, and write your first draft. It’s okay if it sucks! Let me know your favorite tips for overcoming writer’s block in college below in the comments!