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OU students’ guide to beating writer’s block

Writing can be fulfilling and frustrating in equal measure. When you’re in full flow and the ideas keep coming, it feels great and you never want to stop.

But many of us have experienced the opposite of this: drought. When the words dry up and all you have is a blank page (or screen) with no words, only lost time and an anxious, wandering mind.

Whether you’re working on a paper, writing a novel or about to start that dreaded assignment, there are things you can do when you get stuck. With help from OU students via Twitter we’ve gathered some top tips on ways to beat writer’s block.

1. Just start writing

It might feel like an impossible task, but the best thing you can do is start writing. Don’t put pressure on yourself to write the best opening paragraph on the first try. It takes practice, time and patience.

Lilian says: “Just start writing, it doesn’t matter what. It could even be a poem about now knowing what to write.”

Try this: Find three objects in your workspace. Choose one and start writing about it. How does it look, feel, smell and what meaning is attached to the object? Does it look out of place in the room or does it blend perfectly?

2. Write an essay plan

Sometimes writer’s block happens as a result of having not planned.

Preparation is key. It’s important you have a clear idea of how the assessment should be formatted. Think about the arguments you’re planning to make, and the conclusion you’ll come to.

Karen says: “It can help to write a conclusion first so you know where you’re heading and can make each argument go there.”

Try this: How do you prepare for an assessment?

3. Start in the middle

This may feel unnatural at first, but it really does work wonders. It doesn’t have to be the middle either, start in the area you feel most comfortable with or passionate about.

Adele says: “Never start at the beginning. Write one point that you’d like to make then build from there.”

Try this: Write a subheading for each section or paragraph. Then write 3–5 bullet points listing the main points of discussion under each heading. Build it from there.

4. Go for a walk

Crime writer and honorary graduate Val McDermid swears by a brisk stroll in the great outdoors to unwind and get the creative juices flowing.

“Sometimes you do feel a bit stuck. What I try to do is go for a walk. Even if it’s just 10 minutes round the block. Just walk, clear your head, it’s amazing… things start to fall into place…”

Try this: Take a dictaphone and record your thoughts out loud as you walk. You can also use the voice recorder on your phone.Then, when you get back to your desk, write down any key points you made and go from there.

5. Get creative: draw a mind map

 Some of us are visual learners. It’s important you tailor your writing process and create a method that suits your style.

 Andrew says: “Draw a mind map of the concepts/key words/examples and how they might connect.”

Try this: Get creative (and messy). Create a visual map with interlinked circles for each discussion point. Use post-it notes and coloured pens to connect ideas. Add a key on the top corner listing the criteria you have to meet in the assignment. You can then refer to this to ensure all the required areas are being met.

6. Still need help?

We have a number of courses, such as Essay and Report Writing Skills and Writing an Academic Essay: Learning English for Academic Purposes, which are designed to help improve your academic reading, vocabulary and study skills.


By: Natalie Baker

About Author

Robyn is Senior Manager (Social Media Strategy) in Communications. Formerly a newspaper journalist, she is an experienced comms professional now leading the University's multi award-winning Social Media Engagement Team. She likes walking her cocker spaniel, Ralphie, reading crime novels and anything that involves laughing.

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