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Overcoming Writer’s Block in College Essays

Overcoming Writer’s Block in College Essays

It happens to everyone at some point: You have an essay assignment you need to complete and you have nothing. Your mind - and the computer screen in front of you - is completely blank. The project appears futile and you see no way out of the hole you’re in.

It’s writer’s block, a problem that plagues college essay writers, especially during the finals week frenzy. But you can get over it and get your paper done on time.

Clear Your Head

While you might feel panicked and pressed for time, sometimes taking a break from your essay is all you need to get the creative juices flowing again. Go for a walk, grab some food, fold your laundry. Take your mind off your paper and come back to it refreshed. Even if you don’t have much time to spare, moving away for long enough to let a potential panic attack subside can be all it takes to get your mind back on the project itself, rather than the fact that it’s still not done.

Talk It Out

If you have someone to talk to, like a roommate or a significant other or perhaps someone whose life you once saved, 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 whatever’s gumming up the works. But let’s be honest: Few students are going to have this luxury when they’re up against writer’s block and a looming paper deadline. So make the best of what you have, even if it is your Internet penpal in Norway.

Explaining your argument again, as well as thinking through the thing you’re stuck on with another person can reinvigorate you and possibly help you 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 also distract you from doing so. 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 (cleaning, home repair, personal grooming, relationship discussions) you’ve been neglecting, stop yourself. Ask if what you’re doing right now is really the most important thing to be doing. 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 itself that generates problems completing essays. So, something as simple as filling the page with something - anything - can be enough to overcome 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. But don’t just copy and paste an earlier assignment unless you’ve specifically gotten the OK 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’s causing problems for you early on, it’s highly unlikely those problems will magically evaporate. Confront writer’s block head 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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