Friday, September 3, 2010

Writer's Block

A shout-out to @DrTimony, who pointed out the obviousness of what this post should be about.

I'll admit it: I have writer's block. I am suffering from what so many of my developmental writing students complain to me about: staring at a blank page (ok, computer screen) and having no idea what to say or what to write. My writer's block stems from everything an undergraduate faces when they stare at a blank screen, deadline looming.

1) Exhaustion. While I am exhausted for completely different reasons than the average undergraduate (teething toddler vs late night Rock Band marathons), the result is still the same. I am so tired, I can't focus on anything. I can't read and I can't write; I can barely type coherently. My eyes want to close, rather than stare at a screen; my brain wants to tune out, instead on concentrating on forming a coherent narrative, let alone come up with an engaging subject for a post. I'm so tired, I couldn't even see the obvious subject staring me in the face for this post. Usually when students are sitting down to try and write, they are absolutely knocked out from life: part-time jobs, social life, studying for other classes. A tired brain does not do its best work. I know. And now, you know, too, because this post...Meh.

2) Distractions. My mind not only can't focus because it's worn down, but also because I have a thousand other things going on in there: the teething toddler, my husband who is away, the classes and lectures I need prepare for, the guest posts for other sites I need/want to do, the academic research I want to be doing, if the bills have all been paid, dinner, etc, etc, etc. How many students find themselves needing to write a paper for one class while thinking about everything but? You can do everything in your power to remove as many external distractions as possible (nice, quiet, isolated study space), but at the end of the day, the worst distractions are the ones you carry with you wherever you go. 

3) The Missing Muse. Inspiration, oh, inspiration, where for art thou, inspiration? See, I'm so uninspired right now, I'm relying on tired (and poorly used) clichés. Inspiration can come in so many forms, but when it doesn't come, it's really, really, depressing. Especially when a deadline is looming large. When it comes to writing, though, inspiration for me comes days or weeks before I start writing. I mull over ideas/possible blog posts and begin to work them out in my head. I start noticing connections in my lectures, my readings, and in what I stumble across online. The germ of the idea (to borrow the expression from one of my high school English teachers) begins to take root. Preparation comes before inspiration (or some other eye-rollingly cheesy expression), but when the two above issues run you over, really, the muse takes a holiday.

Lord, forgive me for this post; I'm barely aware of what I'm doing.

So, what do you do? Make sure that you don't end up in a situation where you are exhausted, distracted, and uninspired. If you can't write, read. If you can't read, sleep. If you can't sleep, blow off some steam in a healthy way, and then try again. But what if there's just no time? The paper is due tomorrow (or sooner) and nothing is working?

Just write. Write about anything that is even remotely related to the topic of your paper. Write and write and write. Don't worry about what you write, just write. Write it out by hand, then type it up. Take frequent, short breaks. Find a friend who is a better writer than you are and get them to read your paper, applying brutal honesty. While they are doing that, either catch a nap or read on your topic. Go back and rewrite. And then learn your lesson for the next time.

For me, I'm going to publish this blog post and move on. I could have just trashed this post, but hey, not every piece of writing is fantastic, and sometimes you have to live with just good enough. Maybe when I'm more well-rested and less distracted, I'll come back and rewrite this post, if only to prove another point I am constantly making to my students: you can (and should) always work to make your writing better. Until then, I'm going to bed.

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