How to Get Unstuck: Ways to Start Writing and Tips to Keep Going
Alex Clifton, Consultant
Writing is hard. Starting any kind of writing—or keeping it flowing—can be so difficult. Very rarely do people get out what they want to say on the first try. I should know; I just drafted the opening sentence of this blog post five or six times, going through wildly different options. It can be challenging to figure out what you initially want to say, and even harder when you feel like giving up after one or two paragraphs because the words just aren’t coming. Here are some tips to get you writing and keep you writing!
If you have trouble at the beginning of a writing session because you are thinking too much about other homework, life problems, cat pictures, etc., freewrite for five to ten minutes. It doesn’t have to be anything sophisticated; just grab a notebook and write down everything you are thinking, as it comes to you, for that short period of time. Afterwards, you’ll have cleansed those thoughts from your brain for the time being, so you can get down to working instead of wondering whether or not you’ve cleaned your aquarium.
Occasionally, you might struggle to find a topic to write about. It might help to make a list of things you are interested in or want to mention in your essay. This can be especially helpful with personal narratives or persuasive essays. For example, if you’re trying to think up concrete examples to support your idea that fish are the best pets ever, you might make a list describing the pros of keeping fish as pets, another list about your experience keeping fish as pets, and another list with all the facts you know about fish that might persuade someone that fish are great. Again, these thoughts do not have to be organised perfectly; list-making is just another way to get you thinking about what you want to write about!
When working on a paper, remember that you don’t have to write everything in a linear manner—there is no rule that says you have to start with your introduction and plough through in the “right order.” If you’re really struggling to make a point, make a note of where you want it in your essay and then continue writing so you don’t lose your momentum. You can always go back and revisit different portions of your paper, and you might be able to rephrase your thoughts better after you’ve written another section.
Sometimes, it’s hard to get a rough draft out at all. One way to get you writing for blocks of time is to use an app like Write or Die (found at writeordie.com). Don’t let the name scare you: it’s a website that helps you write for however long you decide, be it fifteen minutes or an hour. It motivates partially through annoying you: on one mode, a loud pitch will play if you stop writing for too long, and on kamikaze mode, your work will begin to unwrite itself! (Kamikaze is an optional mode.) The great thing about Write or Die is that it gets you writing, and just writing, for however long you need. Think of it as freewriting for your paper; you can type in anything while you are drafting and then go back and revise it afterwards. It will help you get a draft out and may even add to your productivity, especially when you realise you’ve written for half an hour straight without constantly checking social media or your favourite news sites. I’ve found that using it has helped me learn how to write in chunks of time more effectively, so I can sit down to a half-hour writing session and get work done rather than just goofing around. (A word of warning: if you do use Write or Die, make sure that you copy, paste, and save your work in a separate word document—Write or Die will not save it for you.)
Finally, at the risk of sounding shamelessly self-promoting, come into the Writing Center! We’re here to help you with all of your writing needs at any stage of the writing process. You don’t even have to have a word on the page to make an appointment for an assignment. We can help you discuss your ideas and brainstorm possibilities, or we can read over what you have already written and help figure out where your paper will go next. Sometimes it just helps to talk it all out with someone who wants to hear about your ideas—and trust me, we definitely want to hear what you have to say.
I hope some of these strategies work for you. Try one next time you get stuck writing a paper and see if it helps!