Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How to Move Through Your Writing Block

If you have not written for a while, it can be a challenge to get back into writing. If you have been meaning to get back into your writing for a while, but have not actually made any progress, this week’s post is for you.

Week 9/52: P.S. I Love You

For many writers who work in academia, the end of the semester means that it is time to submit grades, attend a wide variety of events, wrap up service commitments, and get back to that looming writing project. If you have been working on your writing project all year long, transitioning to the summer should be fairly straightforward. You just keep trudging along. However, if you have not been writing all year or all semester, moving back into writing can be daunting. For this reason, I suggest you not write today, but dedicate today to making a plan for writing.

Make a plan

If you keep telling yourself today is the day you will begin the second chapter of your book or pick up that Revise and Resubmit or begin that article, yet have not actually made any progress, then a simple solution for you might be to make a good plan for moving forward. By a plan, I simply mean that you break your large task down into small chunks and decide where to begin. That way, instead of having on your agenda: “Begin to work on Chapter Two,” you have: “Take notes on Parenti and Gilmore articles and write one paragraph on deindustrialization in the 1980s.”

There are two ways to figure out how to break your large task down into smaller tasks. The first way is to break it down in a list. The second is to draw a mindmap. Both work equally well. The first way works better for linear thinkers, the second for visual thinkers. I will explain both below.

Make a list, check it twice….

Let’s say one of your summer goals is to finish Chapter Five. Here is an example of how you would break down Chapter Five into manageable tasks.

Goal: Finish Chapter Five.

  • Write introduction that provides a roadmap to the chapter.
  • Finish Mass Incarceration Section
    • Use notes from Alexander, Schlosser, and Wacquant to explain Mass Incarceration
    • Get data from BJS to show rise in incarceration rates since 1980
    • Use Tonry and prison studies work to discuss global context
    • Use Alexander and Western to explain racial disparities
  •  Complete War on Drugs Section
    • Use Parenti and Wilson notes to discuss deindustrialization
    • Use Alexander and Parenti to discuss history of war on drugs
    • Write up timeline of important legislation ….

The idea behind this sort of listing is that you plan today, and then wake up tomorrow, not with a task that says: “Finish Chapter Five,” but with a manageable task: “Use notes from Alexander, Schlosser, and Wacquant to explain Mass Incarceration.” Once you finish that task, you can check it off and move on to the next.


Some people think more visually, and it is easier for them to come up with a list of tasks to do through the use of a mind map. Let’s say your task is “Finish Chapter Five.” Write that on the left hand side of a blank piece of paper. Now, draw lines out from the circle that explain the big tasks you need to complete in order to finish the chapter. Next, draw lines from each of those circles that break the tasks down into smaller pieces. Keep doing this until you get to manageable tasks. Here is an example:

If you have not begun planning yet, I strongly recommend that you plan first, and execute later. Use today to plan, and tackle the tasks tomorrow. Once you finish planning today, take a break and give yourself a treat. Relax and prepare for your big writing day tomorrow.

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