Professional Development: Dealing with Writer’s Block

Leonid_Pasternak_-_The_Passion_of_creationLast month we discussed the ever present need for continuing professional development for librarians, especially as it relates to professional writing and presenting.  Every librarian, indeed every writer who has attempted to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard as the muse prefers), has experienced at one time or another the dreaded “Writer’s Block.”

So how do we tackle this frustrating state of being?  Especially as we near writing deadlines and feel the dread of nothingness assail us every time we attempt to work on our manuscripts. Books on writing and writing blogs abound with ideas concerning defeating writer’s block.  “Don’t let your fears paralyze you,” advises Paul Blobaum 1 in his “Pep Talk on Writing the Awful First Draft.”  The goal is to get ideas on paper, not to have good grammar, correct spelling, or even accurate facts throughout.  All that comes in the many later drafts. “The first draft,” he continues, “is a labororatory for working things out.”  To this, I would add, don’t feel compelled to start at the beginning.  Just start SOMEwhere…start with your favorite part, capture ideas and phrases, sketch out structures for your article, don’t hesitate to put in place holders that say “I will talk about “x” and “y” here and how “z” is different here.  You can always go back and tackle those areas one at a time later.

There is no such thing as writer's block for writers whose standards are low enough. - William Stafford

Another common technique that some people use is called “freewriting.”  The University of Richmond’s Writing Center describes the priming-the-creative-pump exercise on their website, Writer’s Web.  This technique is also somewhat like Julia Cameron’s “Morning Pages” technique which was made famous in her best-selling book, The Artist’s Way.  She calls it her “bedrock tool of a creative recovery.”  (Listen to her short 2 minute explanation of Morning Pages on the link above.)  While Ms. Cameron is addressing a more basic problem of lost creativity, it relates to us when we are stuck trying to start or continue a professional writing article as well… the freedom to write whatever crosses our mind for a measured period of time can free up our creative juices so that we are better able to concentrate and create on the scholarly subject at hand.

Other ways to kick the writer’s block are explored by our friends at Purdue OWL: “Symptoms and Cures for Writer’s Block,”  and Dora Farkas at Next Scientist offers PhD students hope with “12 Tips to Overcome Writer’s Block for PhD Students”.  I found this article to contain a number of helpful ideas for those of us working on complex research writings.

Charlie Anders wrote a fun article called “The 10 Types of Writers’ Block (and How to Overcome Them”.  While directed at fiction writers (you’ll love all the old vintage sci-fi pulp fiction book covers throughout his article), he makes several points that can be extrapolated to those of us working on Scholarly articles:  “#2  You have ton’s of ideas and can’t commit to any of them”; “#3.  You have an outline but can’t get through one part of it”; and my personal favorite “#9. You had this incredibly cool story in your head, and now you’re turning it into words on a screen and it’s suddenly dumb.”  We all have experienced these and many other frustrating feelings related to writer’s block at one time or another.  It is good to know we are not alone in our feelings; regardless of how things might seem, the very simple, and oh so hard solution is to just keep writing anyway.



1Blobaum, Paul. “A Pep Talk on Writing the Awful First Draft,” in Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook, edited by Carol Smallwood, ALA Editions, 2010. pp 18-19.


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