April 6, 2010

The write stuff

Defeating writers’ block ultimately comes down to, well, writing

In honor of the beginning of a new quarter, I feel it is appropriate to hit you up with some useful scholastic knowledge, or really, life knowledge. More specifically, I would like to offer you guidelines to aid you in the process of overcoming writer’s block, a challenge to both the great artist and the unexpected hero just trying to get through Hum.

Step one: Check your e-mail. This is a crucial step when beginning your paper, or other written work (such as cover letters, Maroon editorials, and important e-mails). Who knows what inspiration you’ll find in the middle of a movie study break reminder forwarded to the Free Food listhost? It’s possible you might even find an e-mail telling you that what you have to write about has been cancelled!

Step two: Check Facebook. Because you probably did not find an excuse not to write your paper while perusing your e-mail, the next logical step is to peruse Facebook. This will mentally prepare you for the task you must do. While on this Web site, consider activities like searching for your professor or TA—bonus points if he or she has a horrible profile picture and is looking for “friendship,” “dating,” “a relationship,” and “networking”—and Facebook chatting for an hour and half with that kid in your class (that you have literally never talked to before, in real life) about how unreasonable your teacher is for assigning a 6–8 page midterm.

Step three: Check PostSecret, because this is all probably taking place the Sunday before your paper is due. Laugh at the ridiculousness of the despair of these anonymous people, which pales in comparison to the despair you feel now that you only have 18 hours left to start and finish your assignment. Briefly consider sending in a postcard, but decide to get back to work, or rather, get started on work.

Step four: Check your e-mail again, just in case.

Step five: Decide that you’re really going to get started now.

Step six: Talk to your roommate about your shared love of Madeleine L’Engle ‘s children’s books. Briefly consider writing a children’s book. Realize that you can’t even write this stupid paper.

Step seven: Prevent yourself from logging into Facebook again. Step away from your computer for your own good.

Step eight: Write a detailed outline of your paper, longhand, starting with your thesis statement.

Wait, what? Was step eight actually work?

Yes, my friends, it was. Because if this is actually going to be an editorial about overcoming writer’s block, I decided that at some point I should probably write something to that effect.

You see, as far as I can tell, the only way to get over writer’s block is to start writing. This requires, for the most part, getting off-line and out of the mind-set that your task is impossible and just writing something. Then you can go back later and make that something into a coherent argument of sorts—you know, something passable—and not feel too horrible about what you have written.

That’s why I would generally recommend, as the ultimate prevention technique for writer’s block, that you start your paper early. This will give you time to procrastinate guilt-free, and thus avoid that soul-sucking oscillation between despair and steely resolve to make an effort (not to mention, if you actually get your paper done fairly early, you’ll have time for revision). Because, while writer’s block is a deceptively simple thing to overcome, vanquishing it does not always mean a decent paper is in the works. But it does mean that you can at least write a paper, so that’s good news.

— Alison Howard is a second-year in the College majoring in English