How to Beat Writer's Block

March 15, 2016

Students who find themselves staring at the blank page and wonder how on earth the space is going to get filled should take heart. They are in good company. Writers of all descriptions find themselves stuck. The feeling of "stuckness" even has a name, "writer's block," which is the focus of an article in The New Yorker.

 

The writer, Maria Konnikova, who also wrote “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes," cites research that blocked writers fall into three groups:

 

"In one group, anxiety and stress dominated; to them, the main impediment to writing was a deep emotional distress that sapped the joy out of writing. In another group, unhappiness expressed itself interpersonally, through anger and irritation at others. A third group was apathetic and disengaged, while a fourth tended to be angry, hostile, and disappointed—their emotions were strongly negative, as opposed to merely sad."

 

The solution? Yale University psychologists Jerome Singer and Michael Barrio asked blocked writers to create their own colorful mental images. "These writers would sit in a dim, quiet room and contemplate a series of ten prompts asking them to produce and then describe dream-like creations. They might, for example, 'visualize' a piece of music, or a specific setting in nature. Afterward, they would visualize something from their current projects, and then generate a “dreamlike experience” based on that project."

 

It worked. Writers who tried the intervention got more writing done, and felt more motivated and self-confident than those who joined a group and talked about their troubles. More backgroound and details can be found in the article. 

 

Or, if you are feeling stuck, just give it a try.

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