Writer’s block

1. What is a writer’s block?

Writer’s block is literarily the inability to begin or continue writing for reasons other than lack of basic skill or commitment. It is one of the most dreaded parts of thesis writing. There’s little worse than staring at a screen not knowing how to start or what to write next.


2. What causes a writer’s block?

Writer’s block as a condition doesn’t actually exist. It’s a symptom of something else. Writer’s block may have many or several causes:

  • the sense of failure; You are afraid that what you write won’t be good enough so you avoid writing at all. Or you are afraid of your supervisor’s disapproval
  • understanding of the topic; writer’s block may be a sign that you have not assimilated the material well enough. Writing a thesis requires both a broad and detailed understanding of the research topic
  • distractions; You may not be able to focus on your essay or college paper writing when you are in a bad mood, angry, pressured or stressed
  • exhaustion; Endless hours sitting in front of a computer can be exhausting. You may simply be tired or burnt out

A writer’s block, may, of course, be an indicator of a flaw in the system itself, i.e. not just in the writing task but in the writing process as a whole: ‘Impatience is the single most important predictor of writing blocks’ (Boice 1994: 28).


3. How to overcome a writer’s block?

Different strategies to battle a writer’s block:

  • Organize your ideas visually: Once you’ve got an idea of what you want to say, try to create a visual representation. You can draw a concept map to show how your ideas are related
  • Verbalize your thoughts: We are often more comfortable expressing ourselves verbally than through writing, so use this to your advantage. Talk your ideas out with a friend
  • People very often have difficulty writing because they can’t seem to translate the ideas in their head into the appropriate academic language. Try to ignore the language and pretend you’re writing to your friend. Once your thoughts are down on paper, you can always revise them in an academic format
  • Take advantage of your body’s natural rhythms. Schedule your writing for peak periods. For example, if you work best in the morning, then make sure that your mornings are devoted to writing and nothing else. Once you have determined and set your schedule, maintain it consistently
  • Accept that you will go through a series of revisions. Writing is a process: prewriting, drafting, revising, editing. Accept that everything you write is not going to be, nor should it be, perfect. By focusing on your writing instead of the finished product, you can avoid getting caught up in the quest for perfection
  • Use waiting time (e.g., walking to class, waiting in line) to think about what you have to do in this chapter and how you want to continue. You’ll be surprised how much this extra thinking time can help
  • Have a certain place to work on your thesis that is the most productive for you. Some students work better at the library than they do at home. Some students want a quiet room while others want television or music on while working
  • Don’t waist too much time on finding the perfect opening sentence for your thesis. Just start with the core of your writing: some background information and literature review, and then off to your own contributions. Once these thoughts are out there, it’s much easier to write an introduction and conclusion which embody the main ideas of your piece
  • Learn from your examples: There’s nothing wrong with being inspired by a great paper or a very clear thesis. When someone has a good and structured setting out there, it’s an ideal opportunity to learn from it and use it as a basis for your own writing. Your final product won’t look anything like the original
  • Let the ideas flow: Try not to correct yourself and reread too much while you are typing out your ideas, as this will only slow you down. Emptying your head first helps to let the ideas flow out in your writing. You’ll be proofreading anyway later on, so you’ll still have plenty of opportunities to correct and improve every sentence. However, having an entire part written, will help you keep an eye on what really matters: the flow of the story, not a collection of perfectly written sentences


4. Need help?

Seek help early! Sometimes simply talking through a problem can help you find a solution. Pick people whom you know will be sympathetic, will listen and encourage you.Contact details can be found here.


5. Available workshops at Maastricht University

  • @ Student Service Centre
  • Fear of failure training


6. Sources



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