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Overcoming Writer’s Block in College Essays

It is common for many students to have an essay assignment you need you’re struggling to conjure ideas or a solid topic. Your mind - and the computer screen in front of you - is completely blank. The project appears futile and you see no way you’ll complete it in time.

This is also known as writer’s block: a problem that plagues college essay writers, especially during the finals week. Fortunately, almost all students get past this difficult point and complete the paper on time, even if it calls for an all-nighter.

Clear Your Head

While you might be panicking and freel pressed for time, taking a break may help set your mind straight. Go for a walk, grab some food, fold your laundry. Take your mind off your paper and come back to it, refreshed. Though you may not have much time to spare, stepping away enough to get your mind back on the project itself.

Talk It Out

If you have someone to talk to, like a roommate or a significant other, you can try to work through your paper’s issues with them. If you’ve actually left yourself enough time to schedule a meeting with your professor to discuss your topic or research before the paper is due, that would be the best option for dealing with the issue. In all reality, few students are going to have this luxury when they’re up against writer’s block and a paper deadline. So make the best of what you have, and who you have.

Explaining your argument again, as well as thinking through the thing you’re stuck on with another person can reinvigorate you and help work out the source of your paper’s problems. It can even get you excited about writing again.

Resist Distractions

While taking a break from writing or talking to someone can help you write your essay, these activities can serve a big distraction. After all, a natural reaction to being hung up on an essay is procrastination, and you may find yourself finding excuses to put off writing, even unconsciously. If you catch yourself staring at the TV, refreshing your favorite websites, or undertaking other projects such as cleaning, home repair, personal grooming, and relationship discussions, stop yourself. Ask yourself: Should I really be doing this? If it is, focus on it and not on your paper, but set a time for when you need to return to writing. If it isn’t, admit to yourself that you’re distracted and figure out a way to shift your focus back to your assignment, or be prepared for an all-nighter.

Beg, Borrow, but Don’t Steal

For some students, it’s the blank page that generates problems of completion. Something as simple as filling the page with the most irrelevant content can occur during writer’s block. Turn to your notes and previous assignments for inspiration, and possibly even for an outline or some sentences to get you started. Do not simply copy and paste an earlier assignment unless you’ve received the approval from all instructors involved. Most colleges regard this as academic dishonesty, and you could fail the assignment or face even harsher penalties.

Don’t Put It Off

If your paper is causing problems for you early on, it’s highly unlikely those problems will go away. Directly confront writer’s block and fight through it. It can be a long struggle, but in the end, you’ll have a better essay if you start writing it early.

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Last Reviewed: January 2020