Being a college student, there are times during my years of academic work where I knew exactly what I wanted to write in my paper. At the other end of the spectrum, there were an equal number of situations where I was left staring at a blank paper. I know that there are some of you out there who can breeze through a ten-page research assignment no problem, and for that I applaud you. This article is meant for the rest of us who stare into space after we hit the infamous Microsoft Word logo on our desktops/laptops before retreating to our cellphones to check on the most recent social media update. If you’re having trouble coming with ideas or even starting your paper, here are some scenarios and tips that I’ve encountered that may help with writer’s block.
A Button in Your Character’s Pocket
Creative writing is something that most of us struggle with, especially since it is so personal to us. There are many avenues and lanes that we can take, all of them seemingly endless at times. Some ideas that can help your story begin with choosing a specific genre and building characters from it. It’s helpful to draw an outline or even a list of possible events that could happen in your story, which can be edited later if you choose. Character development is also a topic of interest, and for those stuck with this critical part of creative writing I offer this writing exercise presented from Alice LaPlante’s “The Making of a Story”. In LaPlante’s chapter on recognizable people she recommends an exercise where the writer fixates on one of their characters, imagining what items could fit in their bag, pocket, etc. (435-436). This exercise allows you to learn more about your character by writing down all the things that can be found in their possession. You never know when a stick of gum stuck in their back-pocket can trigger an idea that impacts their development.
The Cover Page Dilemma
As a psychology major, most of my coursework is dependent on research papers or reviewing scholarly sources. There were times when I would start and finish my cover page a week before the assignment was due, only to revisit said page the day before the deadline. Some of you (Or most of you) have the same mindset as me being a college student, with the idea that we can write any paper thrown at us at last-minute notice. This can be a frustrating habit and is made even worse when you don’t have a clue about what to write for your paper. I offer some tips that have helped me put content into something other than the cover page. The introduction is often the hardest part of a writing assignment so by skipping this and going right into the actual body of the paper, it allows you to achieve a kind of “run before you learn how to walk” feeling. I find that this approach helps at the start of the paper when you have ideas on what to write about, but don’t know how to begin the introduction. On the other hand, if you absolutely have no ideas for the paper, don’t get discouraged. Reading the assigned article(s) or assignment rubric again often jogs some form of ideas that can be expressed in your writing.
A Cup of Coffee with a Side of Something New
Breaking the routine. Everybody wakes up and has a routine. For most of us it’s a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal to start our days. Although everybody has a different version of that routine, I encourage every one of you to break this pattern. By sticking with our normal schedule, its hard to think of something new when the world around us is constantly changing. Take a walk or if you don’t have a lot of time, even walking a different path to your class might be enough to inspire you. All of us like to be comfortable, but I often find that it’s the instances where we feel the most uncomfortable that change and stimulate new concepts for my writing. Participating in a discussion for class or talking to a professor one on one are both examples of how getting out your comfort zone can be beneficial in the formulation of fresh perspectives.
Yes, Your Annoying Roommate Affects your Writing
Our external environment also makes a huge impact in our writing. Personally, it’s harder for me to brainstorm ideas for my writing when there is an abundance of activity around me. Everyone is different however; some individuals thrive when they’re in a busy room full of loud chattering groups. The overall message that I’m trying to convey is that no matter what kind of environment you favor, it does play a major role in your writing. Temperature of the room, how many people are around you, or even the amount of space you must work with are all examples of how our environment can hinder the formulation of ideas for our writing. I recommend finding an environment that you believe is the most relaxed and stress free for best results.
Contributed by: Kenny Ho, Writing Center Intern