by Sydni Hammar
We’ve all had it happen: we receive some daunting writing assignment and we resist the work like a little kid refusing to eat green beans at dinner. Of course, we can only avoid an assignment for so long. Eventually, we sit down to write…and stare at the blank screen for what feels like an eternity.
In these horrifying moments, we feel paralyzed. This writer’s block can happen for a variety of reasons:
- We simply don’t want to put in the time
- We don’t know where to start
- We’re not interested in the topic
- We’re so passionate about our topic that we’re afraid we can’t do it justice
Oftentimes, the longer we wait to begin, the more daunting the work becomes. But in remaining passive by making excuses to procrastinate, we allow our writer’s block the space to intensify.
In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield discusses the idea of resistance, explaining that it functions as a paralyzing roadblock between a writer and his work. He asks: “Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign…like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it” (57).
Pressfield shows us that if a writing assignment feels daunting—paralyzing, even— then it must be very important. This also tells me that accomplishing the assignment will be all the more satisfying. As Pressfield puts it, “the most important thing…is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying” (121).
With that in mind, here are three rules that I swear by when it comes to a daunting paper assignment:
- Don’t like your topic? Change it! Developing a genuine curiosity as we explore an assignment is half the battle. Once we recognize how important and rewarding our assignment is, it is easier to be disciplined in our engagement with it.
- Block off some time to work on the paper every day leading up to the due date. This amount of time could be 10 minutes or several hours. Be reasonable with yourself and your time, but be disciplined, too.
- After you spend time working on the assignment, allow yourself to step away from the work. If you practice this, then you can truly look at your writing and ideas with fresh eyes when you come back to it. This space is important as your paper and ideas develop.
Remember that writing is very process-oriented. Any amount of time you spend wrestling with ideas is progress, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Fighting writer’s block with small, practical steps is a surefire way to get your paper to where it needs to be.
Sydni Hammar is a junior and an English major on the Creative Writing track.