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‘Whatever meaning different writers attach to it [i.e. writer’s block], it is a term we recognise. Anecdotally, it seems to be the term most often used for the acute problems with generating text. It is also the one most feared – by any writer – and, perhaps the most difficult to resolve . . . In fact, the term ‘writer’s block’ may be a term that people latch on to in order to explain why they are not writing; in the absence of a more precise definition, they resort to this term as a kind of catch-all’. Rowena Murray, How to Write A Thesis (Open University Press, 2002), pp.163-71.
Here is a compilation of the reasons for writer's block put forward by postgraduate students taking the 'Developing Thesis Writing Skills' course in previous years:
There are now several internet sites (see below) that give advice on overcoming writer's block, all of them offering a similar core of sugestions. So, for example, the University of Pennsylvania Office of Learning Resources offers students a document called 'Battling the Block: Writing through and beyond writer’s block'. The following list is a summary of their suggested strategies, which as you will see overlap to a considerable extent with the list arrived at by Lancaster students:
• Let things incubate – use time spent waiting / walking / engaged in routine tasks to think about your writing.
• Represent your ideas visually – perhaps try to draw a concept map relating your ideas to one another, or diagram in different coloured marker pens on a sheet of A4. This can bring connections to the fore, and can also reveal weaknesses or gaps in your structure or logic.
• Verbalize your thoughts – try talking through your ideas with a friend or teacher; perhaps ask them to take notes for you; alternatively, talk into a tape recorder and play your ideas back to yourself. This can help to generate ideas and can lead you towards making new connections.
• Change your audience – one of the most commonly mentioned anxieties is the audience you imagine reading what you have written: experiment with writing for a quite different audience, perhaps for a completely non-academic audience (your mother, your friend, your pet); explain your ideas more casually and informally, and then only later on think about revising them for a more academic readership.
• Freewrite – research students often feel weighed down by the sheer amount of material they are trying to synthesise: try closing all of your books and just writing whatever comes into your mind; in the first instance, just write about anything, however irrelevant to the task in hand; then, once you’ve started the flow of words on the page, you might begin to think about the topic you want to discuss, but still with as little internal censorship as possible.
• Use a model of good writing – as the Pennsylvania advice sheet says, “modeling is a powerful rhetorical strategy.” Read the work of a writer you like, and then try using language in the same way, imitating their sentence structure, vocabulary, syntax, etc.
The Owl at Purdue: 'Writer's Block / Writer's Anxiety'
University of Guelph Learning Services: 'Controlling Procrastination'
The Writing Center, University of North Carolina: links to 'Procrastination' and 'Writing Anxiety'
About.com: Fiction Writing: 'Top 10 Tips for Overcoming Writer's Block'
Transaction Net: 'Dissolving Writer's Block'
Writing-World.com: 'Fighting Writer's Block' (and links to related articles)
Glatzer, Jenna, Outwitting Writers' Block: And Other Problems of the Pen (The Lyons Press, 2004)
Hjortshoj, Keith, Understanding Writing Blocks (Oxford University Press, 2001)
Nelson, Victoria, Writer's Block and How to Use it (Writer’s Digest Books, 1985)
Palumbo, Dennis, Writing from the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within (John Wiley & Sons, 2000)
Peterson, Karen E., Write: 10 Days to Overcoming Writer's Block, Period (Adams Media Corporation, 2006)
Rekulak, Jason, The Writer's Block: Ideas to Jump-start Your Imagination (Running Press, 2001)
Weissberg, Robert and Suzanne Buker, Writing Up Research (Prentice Hall Regents, 1990)
© Lynne Pearce, 2006
LUVLE-based Virtual Research Training
Summaries of Pilot Modules on LUVLE:
Latest VRT News
The pilot of the new programme of interdisciplinary virtual Research Training is now running. It started on 21st April 2008 and has enrolled 22 students from a range of departments within FASS.
Any members of staff or other PhD students interested in looking at the pilot in progress on the LUVLE site are welcome to contact us.
If those of you involved in the pilot have any problems or questions, please contact Kate Horsley.
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