Writer’s Block: How Do I Unblock It?


          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. 


          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!

How To Make Your Paper Flow: Cohesion


          Hello, Marauders! If we remember from last week, we talked about how to make our paper flow by using two components called coherence and cohesion. We talked about coherence and how to achieve it (check out the post here: How to Make Your Paper Flow: Coherence). For a refresher, take a look at the terms defined below: 

        • Flow “refers to how easily a reader can get into the text. That is to say, how easily the reader moves past the text and into a reading experience where she or he [or they] is connecting with the ideas presented within the text” (Flow in Scholarly Writing). 
        • Coherence is when the reader can see that everything–ideas, evidence, argument, etc–is logically connected (The University of Auckland). 
        • Cohesion is the quality of sentences and paragraphs to “hang together” in a pleasing and clear way. 

          This week, we’ll look at cohesion and how to achieve it.

Cohesion: The Known-New Contract 

          Cohesion refers to how sentences and paragraphs connect to each other in a way that is clear and makes sense to the reader. Readers may refer to a sense of “flow” in texts with internal cohesion. When we encounter something “new,” our brains are set up to work through the new thing in terms of its relationship to what we already know. So, in a text, the reader expects the writer to make connections between the known and the new. This can be done within paragraphs and in the entire paper. 

Within paragraphs: To increase cohesion and help your reader through your paragraph, here are some things you can do to utilize the “known-new contract”:

        • All the content in your paragraph illuminates your key point/commitment sentence 
        • Repetition of key words and phrases 
        • Use of pronouns (he, she, it, they) and demonstrate adjectives (such, that, this, these, those) 
        • Use of transition words and phrase

In the piece as a whole: Your paragraphs need to “hang” together in such a way that your reader follows easily from one major “chunk” of your meaning to the next:

        • Logical progression of major ideas/chunks 
        • Transitions between chunks

To check if your paragraph has cohesion: Use a skeleton summary outline (which is a bare-bones version of your paper). For each paragraph:

        • Give a one-sentence summary 
        • Ask yourself, what job does this paragraph do? 

          This will help you to know if your paragraph does a good job of connecting ideas and thoughts in a clear way that is easy for the reader to follow and understand. 


          I hope this helps clarify what cohesion is and how to achieve it in your paper. Remember to follow the known-new contract. The goal is to connect information that readers already know to new information so it’s easier for readers to understand. As always, please feel free to visit the Writing Center for more help!

How to Make Your Paper Flow: Coherence


          Hello, Marauders! Welcome back to another info session! Today we’re talking about how to make our paper flow. Maybe you’ve heard your professor say, “Make sure your paper flows well!” What does that mean? Two important concepts that help increase the “flow” of a paper are coherence and cohesion. First, let’s define what these three terms mean. 

        • Flow “refers to how easily a reader can get into the text. That is to say, how easily the reader moves past the text and into a reading experience where she or he [or they] is connecting with the ideas presented within the text” (Flow in Scholarly Writing). 
        • Coherence is when the reader can see that everything–ideas, evidence, argument, etc–is logically connected (The University of Auckland). 
        • Cohesion is the quality of sentences and paragraphs to “hang together” in a pleasing and clear way. 

          When your paper has coherence and cohesion, it flows. It’s organized, it’s logical, and most importantly, it’s easy to follow and understand. This week, we’ll talk about coherence. Next week, we’ll look at cohesion. So, let’s take a look at coherence and how we can achieve it. 

Coherence: The Topic Chain  

          A great strategy to help you determine if you’re using coherence or not is something called the topic chain. BYU Writing Center offers some great insight into what the topic chain is and how to use it. 

        1. Topics are crucial because they focus a reader’s attention on a particular idea toward the beginning of each clause. 
        2. These ideas provide thematic signposts that focus your reader’s attention on a set of well-defined of connected ideas.
        3. If a sequence of topics seems coherent, that sequence will move your reader through a paragraph from a coherent point of view. 
        4.  But if your topics shift randomly, then your reader has to begin each sentence out of context, from no coherent point of view. 

          For example, take a look at the paragraph below, taken from David Herbert Donald’s book Lincoln. New York: Touchstone, 1995. Word Works: Learning through Writing at Boise State University. Number 97, March 1999. Published by the BSU Writing Center. 

 [1] Returning to Indiana, Lincoln dutifully handed over his earnings to his father, but he began to spend more and more time away from home. [2] The village of Gentryville lay about a mile and a half away, and he liked to go there and occasionally help out at James Gentry’s store or work with John Baldwin, the local blacksmith. [3] All the young men who were about to come of age and were restless in the narrow society of southern Indiana gathered about him, because he was always full of talk and plans and jokes and tricks. 

          This is not hard to read, but it is harder than it should be. Notice how the beginning of each sentence pulls the reader’s attention off to a different topic: “Lincoln handed over his earnings,” “The village of Gentryville,” “All the young men.” The reader has to wait to find out what sentences 2 and 3 have to do with the theme of Lincoln’s restlessness, the theme being set up in sentence 1. When this happens, your reader will feel dislocated, disoriented, and out of focus. 

          Abe Lincoln should be the topic of each sentence. By rewriting, we get: 

[1] Returning to Indiana, Lincoln dutifully handed over his earnings to his father, but he began to spend more and more time away from home. [2] He liked to go to the village of Gentryville, about a mile and a half away, where he occasionally helped out at James Gentry’s store, and he worked sometimes with John Baldwin, the local blacksmith. [3] As always, he was full of talk and plans and jokes and tricks, and he gathered about him all the young men who were about to come of age and were restless in the narrow society of southern Indiana. 

          Notice that Abe Lincoln is now the topic of each sentence: “Lincoln dutifully handed over his earnings,” “He liked to go to the village,” “He was full of talk…”. Every sentence is connected logically to one another by the subject, Abe Lincoln. Readers no longer have to wait to find out what sentences 2 and 3 have to do with sentence 1. BYU Writing Center states that you must provide your readers with a coherent point of view, with a logical continuity that will guide them not only through individual sentences but through whole paragraphs. 


          I hope that helps clarify what coherence is and how to achieve it! For overall coherence, all of your main points and ideas should make logical sense and connect to one another. The topic chain helps focus the reader’s attention on a particular topic throughout the entire paragraph and keeps your paper organized throughout. As always, feel free to stop by the Writing Center (Mon-Thurs 1-9 PM and Friday 1-4 PM) for more help! Happy writing!

How to Schedule an Appointment on Starfish

Good afternoon, students and faculty of Millersville University! Recently, the Writing Center has switched the software for making appointments to Starfish. Some of you may have heard of Starfish before—most likely from the kudos emails in your Outlook inbox. It’s a new platform that helps connect MU students, professors, advisors, and more.

But since Starfish hasn’t been around very long, there are a lot of students who may not know how to use it, let alone how to use it for the Writing Center. So today’s post is going to be some straightforward instructions:

  1. Go to MU Logins  and Select Starfish: https://www.millersville.edu/logins/
  2. On Starfish, in the upper left-hand corner, click on the three lines, scroll down, and select “My Success Network.”  
  3. Scroll down to the box that says “The Writing Center,” click the “Schedule” button in the bottom left-hand corner, and follow the instructions. 

And that’s how you use Starfish to make an appointment for the Writing Center! You should get a confirmation email soon afterward. If you’ve gone through these instructions and are still confused, that’s okay. You can also set up an appointment by emailing us at Writing.Center@millersville.edu, calling us at 717-871-7389, or visiting us at McNairy 106 between 1 and 9 PM every Monday through Thursday and 1 to 4 PM on Fridays. Good luck, and see you at the Center!

How to Write an Outline

For this week’s blog post, we’re going to take a look at how to create an outline. An outline is a rough idea for any written subject. Outlines are an easy and time-efficient way to understand complex subjects, and they can help you learn about what you want to write about in a paper and why. And if you follow these tips, you’ll have yours done in no time. Let’s get into it!

Before you start, it’s important to know what you’re going to write about. Your professor probably gave you a general topic, but what are you specifically going to write about? What do you want to write about? For situations like these, it might be best to have a brainstorming section first. Brainstorming is a chance to get all of your ideas down without having to worry about what you’re going to do with them. Think of it as a chance to let your mind wander until you find a topic/aspect of your topic that interests you.

For example, let’s say your Digital Marketing professor wants you to write about one of the forms of online promotion and why it is beneficial. A good way to brainstorm for this would be to write down everything you know about the forms online promotion and see if there’s anything that interests you:

Once you have a better understanding of what you want to write about, you have to find your thesis statement. A thesis statement is essentially the main idea of your paper. It’s the specific viewpoint/opinion of your topic that you want to develop and explain to your audience. 

To continue the example: let’s say you’ve decided to write about blogs. Ideally, you’d try and craft a statement talking about what a blog is and how someone can use it for self-promotion:

When all that’s done, you want to organize your ideas through a bulleted list. You should have sections for your introduction, your main ideas, and your conclusion. In each of those sections, you should add what you want to talk about in them. Your introduction should include any relevant background information the audience needs to understand the subject. Your main points will include evidence to support them. And your conclusion will feature a restatement of your thesis and a review of your main points, and a potential call to action at the end of the post. At the end of everything, your outline should look something like this:

And that’s how you create an outline!  Remember, this is a great way to figure out what you want to do for an assignment before you even start writing. It may not be mandatory, but every little bit helps. Good luck and happy writing!