Tackling Writer’s Block

I’ve had two teachers who have changed my life. The first of these two intersected with my life at a relatively early point. When I was in high school, I had an English teacher— a handsome older man with more salt in his combover than pepper. He was hilariously grumpy and smoked a pipe in the classroom with overt disregard for any rules provided by the school. He peered over him small spectacles at students who offered excuses and valued his time such that he provided raw feedback, including explicit responses for those who submitted sub-par work.

At the beginning of each hour-long class, he would set aside 20 minutes for creativity. He’d found in his time as a published poet that pushing his brain to somewhere new provided him the opportunity to exercise the creative muscle, and wanted to pass the practice forward to focus and frame the coursework in the minds of his consistently-distracted students. He would crack open his stacked dictionary, letting the aged pages fall open. They would fall down, weighted and showing assuredly deliberate marks with circles and notes on it from a day somewhere past, and while he looked to some distant space in the room, he would plop his thick, well-manicured and stained finger down on a random spot. He would call out whatever word it landed on, explaining its definition, and provide the time and space for us to connect whatever was on our minds (or to write creatively) incorporating the new word or concept.

To this day, when I find myself stuck, I crack open the weathered dictionary on the side of my desk and allow my finger to find a word on whatever page it falls to. In dissertation writing, this can be challenging, but it is never fruitless and promises diverse syntax for my work. While every one of the short sections derived from this exercise is not promised feature, it always gives my mind space to venture, reframe and refocus.

When that leaves me, I take a coffee break and return to a separate part of the work 15-20 minutes later. If I had been working on the methodology section, I may come back to the theory section and return to the methods at a later time or on a separate day. Either way, reframing and refocusing saves the day each and every time.

What do you do to push past writer’s block?

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