Putting Perfection Aside: Tips for Breaking Your Writer’s Block

By Conrad Chow

I’m staring at a blank word document. Thirty minutes have passed—only a title and two sentences have made it to the page. The document is now staring at me, waiting.

Have you ever found yourself struggling to come up with the words to write or the motivation to start a paper? You’re not alone. Writer’s block is the phenomenon wherein writers are faced with the fear of writing or the inability to productively write.

This especially challenges writers, like myself, who have a perfectionist personality. It’s fair to think of the first draft as incomplete or error-free, but that’s easier said than done. As we draft, we often try to back pedal before moving forward—we revise as we write.

Perfection is a goal we need to reconsider as we draft. While revising is a necessary step of the writing process, premature revising interferes with our ability to just get words on the page. Below are tips to shift your motivation as you begin writing.

Write about a topic you’re interested in. You’re confronted with a daunting assignment—a task you have no interest in facing. Reading and writing will be inevitable, so accept the nature of the beast and find a topic worth exploring. I’m passionate about basketball, and in high school, I started my first blog to share my opinions on the sport. In my academic work, I found ways to tie basketball into some of my assignments, which made completing the task a lot more compelling.

Start early and take breaks. It’s 10 p.m., and now you’re struggling to crank out an essay in the wee hours before its deadline. One of the worst things we do as writers is procrastinate. By starting early, there are more opportunities for revising and editing. Taking breaks also allows you to come back to the table and consider your writing with a renewed outlook.

Discuss your writing assignment with a peer. Yes, your friends can be a helpful part of the writing process. Peer support can jumpstart brainstorming or open your writing up to multiple perspectives as you revise. Although we don’t think about it much, writing is also emotional. I’ve found it never hurts to hash out your writing anxieties with a friend.

Brainstorm ideas in bullet form and throw them onto the page. Sometimes less is more. If the strenuous part of the writing process is starting, it’s not a bad idea to begin with words and phrases. Breaking down your ideas into smaller fragments allows you to identify the backbones of your argument.

15 minutes of uninterrupted writing. You’re confident in your ideas, but you’re anxious to translate them into writing. Sometimes, you just need to let your thoughts run free on the page. As you write, there’s only one rule: you’re not allowed to backspace to correct grammatical errors, typos, or chains of thought. You can worry about organization and coherence later—just set your timer and go!

Start somewhere. Anywhere. A writing consultant at the University of Toronto once told me a conductive strategy to writing assignments (and procrastination in general) is to make sure you’re always making progress—even if it’s small. If my writing starts to slow down, I might turn to work on formatting the paper or organizing the reference list. Take a breath and work on a different task for the assignment until you feel ready to continue writing.

This definitely isn’t an exhaustive catalog of strategies to address writer’s block. However, these strategies have worked for me, and I hope you find them helpful as well. If you have writing strategies you’d like to share, feel free to comment below. Happy writing!

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