Helping Students Get Past Writer's Block

Is there really such a thing? Or is it an excuse we created to get out of doing something we don’t want to do? I remember hearing countless times from students who had not done the essay I had assigned, claiming to have the affliction. As a writer myself, I could understand my students’ frustrations (although I didn’t always believe that was truly the issue.)

I know I wasn’t the first—nor would I be the last to “suffer” from this debilitating “disease,” right? Surely everyone who has had to sit down and write something has felt this at one point. So I decided to make it my mission to find out. And while I identified with my students, I wanted to teach them how to get past themselves – their worst critics, to still be able to create. So, what is Writer’s Block, does it really exist, and how do we get past it?

I decided to start my search online, looking for the technical definition of “writer’s block.” According to Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, the term “writer’s block” is a psychological inhibition preventing a writer from proceeding with a piece. So it was psychological—not physiological. In other words, I was still capable of physically writing down words and phrases and maybe even sentences, but my mental process—my behavior—kept me locked up. As I continued my search, I came across a great blog entry by (aka Merlin Mann) that completely changed my perspective. The blog is entitled “Hack Your Way Out Of Writer’s Block.” After I read the article and considered the difference between psychology and physiology, I suddenly remembered how I used to tell my students who were stuck and felt they couldn’t write to just “throw up on the page.” I know it sounds vulgar. Still, I just wanted them to write—anything. I reminded them that it was not important to use “big” words and that no matter how good of a writer they were, they would have to go back and edit at least once or twice—if not more. So, I told them to stop being their worst critic and allow themselves to be brilliant or fail miserably. Either way, they had words on the page and could go somewhere with that. They were physically capable of writing; it was just their mental processes (usually an inner critic) that hindered them. And that’s precisely where I was.

Remind students that there is always a beginning – even the best writers have had to stop being their worst critics and allow the words to escape their brains and flow to their fingertips. I reminded them that even I had to stop censoring my words and had to allow myself just to write. I had to get out of my own way and let myself be brilliant or fail miserably.

Whether an actual affliction or an excuse to get out of homework, a struggle is a struggle – and often very real for a student who believes they can’t express themselves. Share your struggles with your students. Encourage them to find their voice by freewriting. Just keep going. They – and you – may be thrilled at what appears on the other side.

Here are some online resources I came across that might be helpful.

Writer’  Writer's Block, It's All in your Head?   A nice article by Leslie What exploring the technical aspects of writer’s block, plus tips and hints.

Perdue Online Writing Lab: Symptoms and Cures for Writer's Block "Nasty Case of Writer's Block Creates the Most Brilliant Scientific Paper Ever”  This was hilarious, and says it all.

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