By Susan Hoffman
Contributor, Online Learning Tips
Imagine you are just about to write a term paper for one of your university classes. You tracked down appropriate scholarly sources from the library, carefully took notes to logically support the points to be made in your paper, and created an outline and list of references.
You’re sitting at your computer, notes lying beside you. All of your potential distractions — music, other people, pets, TV — have been eliminated. You are determined to create a brilliant and scholarly paper to dazzle your instructor.
And then it happens: Writer’s block hits you and you can’t think of anything to write.
All Writers Face Writer’s Block on Occasion
As a professional writer and editor, I wrestle with writer’s block sometimes. My inspiration decides to take a vacation and I struggle to think of something worthwhile and original to write.
Fortunately, I had an excellent high school English teacher, Mr. Hill. He taught me a useful four-step formula for overcoming writer’s block, a formula that I still use today.
Step 1: Create the First Draft
The initial step is to create a first draft. Consult your outline and start typing sentences — whatever flows out of your brain and through your keyboard. This first draft doesn’t have to be perfectly worded. The important thing is to get your thoughts down in writing so you have something concrete to revise later.
Step 2: Take a Break
After you get your first draft of your term paper written, get up and take a break. Your break can last from a few minutes to a few hours, depending upon your schedule.
By taking a break and doing something else even for a short while, you have the opportunity to think over what you’ve written. Fresh ideas often come to mind during this step. Maybe there was an important point you forgot to make in your paper or perhaps you suddenly think of a much better way to phrase your thesis statement. Jot down these ideas as soon as they occur so you can incorporate them into your term paper later.
Step 3: Revise Your First Draft
Now, sit down at your computer again and start revising your work. Look critically at what you have written and delete the words, phrases or sentences that do not contribute fresh thoughts to your paper.
Also, consider these other factors essential to good writing:
- Are your sentences clearly worded, so the reader will interpret them in the way you intend?
- Are there any mistakes in spelling, grammar or punctuation?
- Does your paper have a clear structure?
- Does your writing contain tangents that could be eliminated?
- Do your research sources have proper attribution, cited in the correct style for your academic discipline?
Step 4: Polish and Proofread the Final Version
It’s time to finalize your term paper. Read over the final draft and make any necessary changes to your work. After you judge that your paper is ready, submit it to your instructor. You’re done.
When Writer’s Block Appears Again, You Know How to Conquer It
Many careers involve at least some writing and the need to clearly express ideas to other people. By using this four-step formula for any short or long documents you write, your readers will be better able to understand what you’re saying and to react appropriately.