Writer’s Block: How Do I Unblock It?

Introduction 

          Hello, Marauders! Welcome back to another weekly blog post from yours truly, the Writing Center. Today we’ll be talking about the dreaded problem of WRITER’S BLOCK. This is when you are trying to write something–anything–and for some reason, you simply cannot do it. You cannot figure out how to start, where to start, what to write, or maybe even why you’re even writing it in the first place. There’s a creative blockage that’s hindering your ability to write. So, what can we do about this? 

A Real Life Example from Emily, A Writing Center Tutor 

          Writer’s block can happen to anyone at any stage of their creative process. For example, the topic that my fellow blog writer, Jake, and I decided to write about this week was, obviously, writer’s block. And as I sat down to write it, I thought, “Oh, dear. What a topic to be writing about when I don’t even know what to write or how to write about it.” I started by writing the introduction, explaining what writer’s block is, the problems that it causes, etc. etc. But I didn’t really know where to go from there. So I googled it and glanced over the first results that popped up. Then I sat back and scrolled on my phone for a little (typically I would advise to NOT do this when trying to write, especially if it’s an academic paper or big project). Then I thought, “Let’s make a list. Lists are good. Lists are helpful.” I began to get over my writer’s block when I focused on breaking the big project (writing a blog post about writer’s block) into smaller pieces (such as the sections of the post, and two or three main ideas that I wanted to get across). I figured the easiest way to start was to offer at least 3-5 pieces of advice on how to deal with writer’s block. That way, I had a measurable goal that was realistic and manageable. I reminded myself that I wasn’t trying to cover EVERYTHING, but rather just some tidbits of information that I think are important and will be helpful to fellow students. So, here are the 5 helpful tips I found on how to deal with writer’s block: 

      1. Get some words onto the page (University of Illinois Springfield). Don’t wait for “inspiration to strike.” So how do you get words on the page? 
      2. Start brainstorming ideas for the topic. Pick ones that are interesting to you, or ones that you think you’d enjoy exploring further. From here, you can start outlining and coming up with main points or main ideas that you want to express (Purdue OWL). 
      3. Use visuals! Visualizing the problem and having something concrete in front of you can be a big help during the writing process (MasterClass). Use Post-It notes, circle important information, annotate, put a question mark next to something if you find yourself asking, “What does this mean?” etc. Personally, I like to highlight as I’m reading the articles that I’ve found. I’ll highlight quotes that stand out to me, or information that I think will be necessary or useful for my topic. 
      4. YOU DON’T HAVE TO WRITE THE INTRODUCTION FIRST! Sometimes writing introductions is hard. I totally understand. I like to write my body paragraphs first, because I’ve done the research, I have my quotes and evidence, and I know the topic pretty well at this point. So it’s easier to write about my main points, and once I have that, then I go back to my introduction. 
      5. Ask for help. If you still feel stuck and you don’t know what to write about, or how to narrow a topic down, or how to determine what’s important information and what’s not, go to a tutor or a teacher and ask for help! Bring your work and your ideas with you and bounce them off of another person. Having someone else present is so helpful because you can pick their brain and they can help you see the issue from a different angle and fresh perspective. 

Conclusion 

          Oh! One more bonus tip: Put your phone in a place where you physically can’t see it or easily reach it. Put it somewhere where you have to get up and walk to get it. Seriously. Even if you do this for only 30 minutes, it can help you focus better on your work and get rid of distractions. Anyway, I hope you found these tips (and my personal experience) helpful! It may sound cliche, but the best remedy for writer’s block is to just start writing. Jot some words down on the page. Start mulling over ideas. And, of course, feel free to stop by the Writing Center for additional help! We can help you at any stage of the writing process, including brainstorming and outlining. Our hours are 1-9 PM on Mondays through Thursdays, and 1-4 PM on Fridays. With that being said, good luck and happy writing!

The Origins of In-Person, Zoom, and Online Appointments: A Story by Jake

Introduction

Hello, all you Writing Center Blog Fans! We are back with another fan-freaking-tastic adventure into the inner workings of the Writing Center. From the outside, it may seem like a simple place full of exuberance and jubilee, but trust me, on the inside we put ourselves through the wringer to give you the writing support you need. For us to do our job, so that you can work towards your future job, we need to know what location is most comfortable for you to receive our help. Because of this, we put our greatest minds together and developed a three-pronged approach to conquer the art of tutoring.

Trust me, it’s as mysterious as it sounds—I still have only gathered fragments of its origin from its founders, as they travel to lands unknown when the subject is broached. Where they went was beyond me, but I hope one day I can frolic with them in the fields they permanently toil or the sea they permanently tread. And if the stars align just so, we may one day stumble through rolling green hills together and slip into an ocean as blue as the fresh morning dew. But until then, I will recount what I know of the origins of tutoring appointments here:

The Story

In-Person Appointments were the first to be discovered:

One day in a Writing Center not so far away (in fact, it’s located in the library next to the Starbucks), Tutor 001 was sitting alone clacking away, tapping their foot, and bobbing their head when they heard frantic footsteps from beyond the doorway. What could this mean, they thought, is the prophecy true? (Side note: this prophecy nonsense feels farfetched, but just go with it. Let’s just say Tutor 001 doesn’t have all their I’s dotted and T’s crossed, if you know what I mean). From the doorway, 001 heard a voice whisper, “Excuse me, I need help with a paper.” At this, 001 froze, the clacking ceased, the tapping quit, the bobbing stuck. Slowly, 001 closed their computer and turned to the doorway. Before them stood the very first In-person Appointment tutee. 001 assuredly ushered them in with a wave of their pencil-equipped hand and said, “Then you’re in the write place… you see what I did there?” The tutee, occupied with measured steps, missed the cheap pun and sank into the plastic chair next to 001. “I’m sorry I just walked in, I didn’t know where to schedule an appointment,” they whispered, with eye contact this time. At this, the look that would come to adorn 001 permanently cast over them (again, what comes next sounds like some bruhaha to me, but hey what do I know, I wasn’t there), and what they saw was a world full of picnic blankets and charcuterie boards, where people gathered in circles with homemade punch and scribbled away on personalized notebooks and spoke up for advice when struck by an impenetrable writer’s block. At this moment, 001 knew that what they said and did next would fill the first inkwell on the path to that promised land. They said, “No need to worry, I’d be happy to help you, and next time, you can schedule an appointment on a helpful tool called Starfish by selecting the In-Person session option.”

Zoom Appointments came next:

For many years, In-Person appointments were all the rage. Tutors 002-050 joined tutor 001 on the front lines and the tutee population grew exponentially. They spread their love of writing and editing everywhere they went, taking notes asking for help, and offering advice. The Tutors loved seeing their blossoming young tutees crane their necks over the shoulder of a new tutee bulb. Soon the passion for sharing carried them far and wide and, sadly, traveling back to the Writing Center (next to Starbucks) for an In-Person Appointment became a burden. With time, the essential lessons they learned from the Tutors were lost, and the tutees began offering unconstructive criticism and idolizing false cognates. The Tutors knew they had to act, but they didn’t know how. They gathered for weeks and weeks and made no headway; they were too stuck in their ways to see the answer right in front of their noses. They had met their match and needed something or someone to overcome it for them. And, lo and behold, that person was Tutee 001.

(To be honest, by now I doubt you’re reading this so I’ll just say that you can schedule Zoom appointments by clicking the Zoom check box on Starfish, which is a thirty-minute Zoom conversation with a tutor. There is also an Online appointment option, which is when you send your paper to writing.center@millersville.edu with your M#, the class that it is for, and what specifically you need help with, and we’ll leave comments and send it back to you. Please check out https://blogs.millersville.edu/writingresources/2023/04/28/scheduling-an-appointment-on-starfish/ to find out how to operate Starfish. Now, for those who’d like to keep reading, here you go).

From the first In-Person appointment, Tutee 001 knew they wanted to wander the land, spreading the wisdom bestowed upon them by Tutor 001. They never strayed from what they had heard: be calm, ask questions, lead and don’t direct, learn from the Tutee as they learn from the Tutor. In their travels, they learned what it meant to be both Tutor and Tutee; they swung their legs off the bridge lodged between the Tutors stuck in their ways and the Tutees lost in the haze. When they heard the battle cries sound from one end of the bridge at the other, they knew it was time to return to the Writing Center from which they came. It was time to toe the bridge.

To the Center they went and, upon arrival, were bombarded with disarray. Loose leaf papers were flapping in the currents sent by the air vents and red ink rivers running across the carpet, pouring out the fateful pens. There was no clacking to be heard, no sound bouncing from one bare wall to the next. Deep inside the walled fortress of the Center, Tutee 001 discovered Tutors 001-050 huddled together, quivering in their failure. They were a defeated bunch with haggard faces and still fingers and muffled moans. Tutee 001 stood in the doorway until the Tutors acknowledged the presence of one of their pupils, as they had done since the beginning. Tutee 001 declared, “You are a defeated bunch. You are weary and drained. You fear that you have failed. But defeat gives you a choice. Stay down, sprawled and subdued with inanition. Or rise up, proud and coalesced by determination. You must expand your teachings to the beat of your following. You must channel the power possessed in Zoom into your practices. You must enter the face-to-face communication digital landscape.”

At this rousing speech, Tutors 001-050 stood one by one. They raised their chins to the tarped-over skylight and watched as a corner broke its bonds and flapped in the fresh air, revealing the beaming sun.

Online Appointments came last:

One day, once the Tutors’ ranks grew beyond triple digits, the unassuming and quiet Tutor 0008 suggested an Online Appointment option be added to Starfish (cue nature sounds, opera, violin). Tutors 0001-9999 came together for the one and only meeting of the entire Tutor population. It drew crowds, stressed infrastructure, and caved bandwidth. Tutors 001-051 (minus Tutor 050, who was unfortunately lost to a printer accident), met in person. And of course, Tutee 001, spokesman for Tutees and Tutors Alike in Dignity Together in Common, sat to the right of Tutor 001 at the banquet table of the Original 50. Across from the head drilled into the wall was a gigantic screen that contained Tutors 0052-9999 in puny boxes, that rearranged themselves at will bouncing to and from as the clacking once did so long ago.

A hush fell over the room as Tutor 001 clamped their hands on the silver-plated armrests of their jeweled throne. Slowly they rose, as the chaos once made them do before, and declared, “We come together, both near and far, for the final proposition. Our methods are nearing perfection. We have become an assembly line, all both parts and tools. Today we add one last piece to our puzzle: Online Appointments. They can be selected on Starfish by the desired tutees. We will take their papers with tender hands and read as if they were to our left or right. We will pin our comments in the margins and send the paper back with a smile. We will do this, for this is our duty to the world.”

And that’s it. This was inspired by true events that happened during an unspecified time at an unspecified location. Take with you what you will, and come back next week for more Writing Center Blog fun :). Happy writing!

Some Writing Tips from Our Tutors!

Hello, Marauders! As you know, the Writing Center is here to help you with all of your writing needs, so I decided to ask around for some helpful tips and tricks—and who better to ask than our very own tutors? Sometimes we also struggle with writing. We understand it can be hard to write introductions, come up with thesis statements, figure out how to organize the paper, and everything else in between. So what are some strategies to help with these common problems? Here’s what our tutors have to say about it: 

Eden, English Writing Studies major/Anthropology minor: Getting started is the hardest part. If you can’t get started, start in the middle. Start with your body paragraphs or your supporting evidence. You don’t always have to start with your introduction or thesis. 

Anna, Secondary English Education major/Theatre minor: When you’re working on something, the most important part is writing the first draft. Because once it’s concrete, not just something in your head, you can work on improving and revising, and anything else to make it better.   

Lauryn, Secondary English Education major: You don’t have to write your paper in any specific order; you can jump around from section to section. 

Emily, English major/Writing Studies minor: After you’ve finished writing a first draft of your paper, READ YOUR PAPER OUT LOUD! After working on it for an extended period of time, it’s so easy to miss things no matter how many times you review it on your screen. Reading the paper out loud is so helpful in catching grammatical mistakes, missing punctuation, and hearing how the paper flows.  

Carson, Secondary English Education major: Always write your introductions last.  

Allison, English major/Art minor: In terms of writing advice, I think it’s really important to get into the practice of letting your peers read your work, even if it’s just like your best friend. Just letting someone else see it to review it and letting another person get another pair of eyes on it is an important part of the writing process in my opinion. 

Jake, Writing Studies major: Write a bad first draft. 

As you can see, there are lots of different approaches to writing. The important thing is to figure out what works best for you and your writing style, habits, and productivity. Writing is a process that involves a lot of different moving parts, and the journey is usually never linear. Author Akemi Dawn Bowman says, “Focus on your own journey, and try not to worry about what’s going on in the lane next to you” (“21 Authors Share One Piece of Advice for Writers”). I hope these tips and tricks from our tutors are helpful to you! As always, stop by the Writing Center for more help! We’re open Monday through Thursday from 1:00 PM to 9:00 PM and Fridays from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM. Feel free to drop in or better, make an appointment through Starfish (click here for instructions). Happy writing!