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Overcoming writer’s block

Last modified on 10-05-2022
Sometimes you might get a mental block when writing a text. This is known as writer's block. This page gives you tips on how to overcome it.
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Writing a paper, thesis or essay can be a stressful business. Where do you start? Is what you’ve written interesting enough? You constantly revise your work. Or you don’t dare put anything down on paper and constantly put off writing. How do you break this pattern?

Good preparation is half the work

It is totally normal to run into difficulties from time to time during the writing process. Often this happens because you didn’t make a clear plan at the outset and don't really know what you want to say or research. Draw up a plan of action before you start writing, so you know roughly what you’re aiming to write. You can find out more about how to draw up an effective plan of action on the page on academic writing.

Build ‘writing stamina’

Draw up a realistic plan and time schedule. Divide the writing task into manageable blocks, and plan what you will do in these blocks. That way you can tick off what you’ve completed as you go and you will have a clear idea of what is still left to do. 

If you write at a specific time each day, writing will soon become a habit. Do you dread the thought of writing? Start with small steps: ‘loosen your writing muscles’ for half an hour or an hour every day for a week, then gradually increase this time.  You will notice that your insecurity decreases. 

Schedule times when you get away from writing completely and take time to relax. 

Revisions are banned

If you’re still having problems with your writing despite having a good plan of action and a realistic time schedule,  it’s probably because you’re trying to edit and improve your work while you are writing. You are essentially accelerating and decelerating at the same time. 

Writing comprises two phases. You start by getting a rough version down on paper without being too critical.

 You don’t have to start at the beginning, you could start with a chapter on a theme that you know a lot about. If you’re not sure about specific sections, you can italicise them or highlight them in a different colour. You can add reminders for yourself in the margin. 

Only when you have enough text are you are ready for phase two: editing and revising the text.

Analyse negative thoughts

Doubts over your abilities and excessive perfectionism can have a paralysing effect on your writing.  You put so much pressure on yourself that you seize up and you can no longer write. Break this pattern by writing your negative thoughts down. Ask yourself in each case:

  • - Is this thought true?
  • What evidence do I have against this thought?
  • Does this thought help my writing process?

Convert the negative thought into a more positive thought.  You will only know if you can do something if you’ve tried to do it. Maybe you won’t succeed the first time, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t the next: writing is a learning process of trial and error. For more tips, see the page on dealing with worry

Also, try not to take your writing task too personally. If you get a negative assessment, it’s no reflection on you as a person. It just means that there are things you can do to improve your writing.

You don’t have to write on your own

Writing can be a lonely business. Make sure you keep in contact with fellow students who have a similar writing task to you while you’re writing. That way, you can encourage each other by arranging a writing afternoon where you all write together and read each other’s work. If you’re writing your thesis, make sure you have regular contact with your thesis supervisor. Your supervisor can encourage you and tell you if you’re on the right track.

Training courses and workshops

The UvA provides additional support for various topics through information meetings, workshops, training courses and groups. You can learn more about these by clicking on training courses and workshops.

Questions?

If you have a query about writer’s block, please contact the Student Psychologists Office.

 

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UvA's psychologists

You can turn to the UvA’s student psychologists for help with study-related problems or personal issues that are interfering with your studies. You do not need a referral from your GP. Register for a workshop or group module on UvA CorsizioExternal link.

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