For When You Just. Cannot. Write. Any. More.

“Vanderburg goes on to argue that the recent increase in emissions I CANNOT DO THIS WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME LALALALALA.”

Yes, the drafts of my papers actually look like that. I get to the point where I’m so frustrated and exhausted that I just start typing out my frustrations in a frenetic burst before violently closing the word document and storming off to make myself a sandwich. Is this the most mature way to deal with paper-writing stress? Probably not. But I’ve got to say, once I regain composure and return to my desk, it’s always amusing to read the aftershocks of my previous mental breakdown.

Every writer hits the wall from time to time. It’s never pretty. But of course, to find yourself mentally incapable of writing a single coherent sentence now, right in the thick of finals, is particularly inconvenient. When this happens, you experiment with cathartic pounding at your keyboard as I do, or turn to a more productive (and sophisticated) solution. There are a few techniques you can use to scale the wall separating you from your goal of a articulate final product:

  1. Read over what you’ve written. Sometimes all it takes to get you moving again is a simple refresher to set you off in the right direction. It’s also helpful to go back to your outline (if you’ve written one!) to remind yourself of how this particular section fits into your paper as a whole.
  2. Revisit your notes. Even if you keep very detailed notes, it can be easy to lose track of specific details, especially if you’re writing a long research paper. If you’re struggling with what to include in a particular section, go back through all of your notes (yes, even the ones you’re confident you know by heart) to re-familiarize yourself with the material. Chances are you’ll find a gem or two that weren’t applicable when you started writing, but would fit perfectly into your argument now that it has evolved somewhat.
  3. Switch to a different section. Can’t seem to make your introduction come together? Skip it! Move on to your first body paragraph (or second, or third!) and make a note to come back later. You don’t have to write the paper in the order that you’ll read it, after all.
  4. Talk it out. Verbalizing your thought process can have an amazing effect on your ability to recognize what it is you actually want to discuss. Find a friend or roommate who has a few spare minutes and blab at them; explain what you’re trying to argue and what you’re struggling to convey. Often, articulating your ideas out loud will help you more smoothly translate those ideas to paper.
  5. Of course, sometimes when writer’s block strikes there’s nothing to do but temporarily surrender. I know the mentality of finals week is that you should be working every minute to make sure everything gets done on time, but if you’re not feeling it then don’t force it! It’s more effective to take a break and be more productive when you return than to plod forward and have to spend a lot of time later on revising your sloppy prose. Take a break, get some fresh air, and de-stress for a bit!

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