Tag Archives: writer’s block

Get the ball rolling

by Bubba Sugarman

You’ve just received a new assignment from your favorite class. It’s a page of complex paragraphs filled with instructions followed by a grading rubric. I’ll be honest; when I receive a large assignment like this it can seem a little frightening. It might seem big and scary, but here are three simple strategies I use to make assignments more manageable and help get the ball rolling.

  1. The topic-tackling strategy

A roadblock to getting started can be choosing a topic to write about, especially when your assignment is largely open-ended. I find that choosing a topic is one of the hardest parts of the writing process, so I start by brainstorming. In my brainstorming session, I think of anything that could remotely answer the prompt, and I write it down. I don’t weed out ideas just yet; I only write them down. Once I’ve compiled a list of ideas I start to think them out by creating a set of criteria that my topic must meet. For example, for a science paper, I’ll look at how much research has been done on my proposed topic and check to see if it is still relevant to today’s academic discussion. Using my criteria, I then narrow my brainstorming list to a few choice topics. With a list of choice topics made, I begin my exploratory research to get to know them better.

  1. The research reviewing strategy

The library is my best friend when it comes to getting to know my topic. The more exploratory research I do, the more I tend to get a sense of the right topic to pursue. Once I’ve narrowed down my ideas to a topic that will meet my criteria and pertains to the assignment, I start my research. Research poses its own set of challenges, but don’t be alarmed—the writing tutors and librarians are all research wizzes. They are there to help you, and they have some pretty neat tricks to make your research process a little less painful!

  1. The checklist strategy

One strategy that I find incredibly helpful for lengthy prompts is the checklist approach. This strategy works best for assignments that have a lot of individual requirements within them. For example, your assignment might ask for the following: a double-spaced five-page paper in MLA format, with a title page, seven sources, one block quote, and a self-assessment. This long list of tasks is hiding in your page-long prompt. You can make more sense of it using the checklist approach. Highlight each task within the assignment and put a checkbox next to it. As you work through the assignment, you can reference your checklist and mark off the individual boxes. I like to add my own to-dos to my assignment, i.e. “read through it out loud” or “double check your boxes.” Once all your boxes have been checked, your assignment should be complete!

Don’t forget, if at any point you find yourself needing help, the librarians and writing tutors are here for you. Bring us your questions and papers; we love to help.

Bubba Sugarman is a sophomore business major who has trouble saying no to new things. He enjoys playing rugby, beekeeping, blacksmithing, bull riding, surfing, flying helicopters, playing cello, working as a writing tutor, woodworking, welding, flying planes, baking, shearing sheep, and procrastinating. As a tutor, Bubba wants to make the tutor café as inviting as possible for all students. Even if you don’t have questions, come hang out with us, we get lonely sometimes.

Jump start your research

by Anna-Zoe Herr

Do any of these descriptions fit you?

  • I am not sure where to start in my research for a specific topic.
  • I only have a vague idea about the area I would like to explore deeper.
  • I don’t have a thesis or any background knowledge on my chosen subject.

Then the frustration has an end right here and now! Here are three starting points:

  • Key Terms
    Sometimes we underestimate how key terms and search words can help us in starting the research process. We can use them to understand what we are really researching, to establish the parameters of our interest, and to find the right material for a stellar paper. Sit down for five minutes and make a list of terms—synonyms and ideas that float through your mind about the general area of your interest.
  • Book Reviews
    Once you have your key terms, use a database appropriate to the discipline of your topic and refine your search. Your key terms can help you locate articles on your topic, and find sources that give you some more general information to help you move forward: reviews and book reviews. Just check the boxes telling the database to search for these in addition to articles. This has been some of the most helpful advice as I search for material for my capstone. Book reviews typically give you background on the topic or general area, names and further key terms, a list of resources besides the one reviewed, and a summary or in-depth information of the area you are interested in. All of that in a small number of pages. In other words, book reviews are essential to expanding your understanding of a topic, finding resources, and knowing where you want to go next in your research!
  • Definitions and Encyclopedias
    There are many encyclopedias and dictionaries found through our Principia Library website* that you can access for in-depth articles on specific words. These articles often explain the heritage of the word but also give a lot of history, context, and further resources to consider. Having a solid understanding of the key terms will help you branch out into new areas you might not have considered before and will plant you on a solid foundation in order to deliver a bullet-proof argument. Examples of excellent dictionaries are the Encyclopaedia Britannica or Gale Virtual Reference Library. These resources are amazing because, since you’re a student, you can access them for free! Don’t underestimate the power of definitions.

*To find the lexica or dictionaries on the library website, scroll down on the homepage to the first box, then click Dictionaries & Encyclopedias.

Anna-Zoë is a first semester senior working on her final studio art portfolio and global perspectives capstone. She just returned from the Prague Abroad is excited for the last two semesters at Principia.

Writing for a reason

by Jessica Barker

As the semester comes to a close and deadlines quickly approach, the thought of having to write a paper can become daunting. But it doesn’t have to put a damper on the rest of your semester. If you start to feel discouraged or question the value of writing, remember that there is a lot of good that can come from it. Really!

Explore a topic that interests YOU

One of the best things about writing in college is that you are usually able to choose what YOU want to write about within the context of the class. Writing doesn’t have to be an excruciating process. Look for connections to the topic that interest YOU. They’re there, but it might take a willingness to look on your part. Plus, when you are writing about a topic that you are passionate about, the writing process can fly by!

Good practice for college and beyond

If you find yourself writing about a topic that you don’t find particularly interesting, it can be difficult to enjoy the writing process. But this work is not pointless. Honest! You might end up developing a new skill or learning about a subject that you wouldn’t have otherwise researched. You never know, this knowledge might come in handy one day. There might come a time when you need to use research skills, or when your growth as a writer benefits you in another class or in a job after college.

Contribute to the academic community

Although it may seem as though your professors just want you to regurgitate information, most of them would rather read about your discoveries and your ideas on a topic. If you write with this sense of curiosity and discovery, whatever you write about stands to affect your readers and therefore impact that field of study. That’s empowering. Your work is not worthless, and it is not busywork. It is valuable, and it can be powerful!


Jessica Barker is a sophomore majoring in theater and minoring in sociology and anthropology. After college she hopes to use theater to create social change and empower others.





Need some motivation?

By Camille Pruvost

“Mind alone possesses all faculties, perception, and comprehension.”

– Science & Health with Key to the Scriptures, by Mary Baker Eddy 488:23 –

It’s that time of the year again. Papers and projects have begun piling up, the sun is setting at 5:00pm, the weather has turned chilly, and you’re soooooooo done with school. But before you start dreaming of turkey and Christmas trees, remember those papers aren’t going to write themselves!  If you’re having a difficult time motivating yourself to start working, here are a few tips to kick yourself into gear:

#1 Stop dwelling on it!

Thinking about how much work you have left to do isn’t going to make it magically disappear. I know, college life is tough. But seriously, stop thinking about it. Having a lot of obstacles isn’t a problem if you know how to react to obstacles. It is what you do that makes you successful or not.

#2 Clean your room

Dead serious. Put on some funky music with a beat, throw in a load of laundry, organize your desk, sweep the floor, and make your bed. While cleaning your room isn’t as intimidating as a paper (I hope), it gets you up and moving forward. Plus, an organized room is usually more conducive to productivity.

#3 Grab a bite to eat

When was the last time you ate? Was it nutritious? Set yourself up for success and feed yourself! At least make it a snack of yogurt, nuts, or fruit.

#4 Take a gratitude walk

Nothing like a brisk walk in chilly air to wake you up and get the blood pumping. While you’re strolling along, make a list of all the things/people you’re grateful for and why. Spend some time feeling this sense of gratitude. Think about how amazing you’re going to feel when you finally finish that paper. Happiness in the present is requisite for success in the future.

#5 Take a shower

Sometimes, that’s all you need.

#6 Block all social media

Drastic times call for drastic measures. Take the plunge, and block off all social media and websites that drain your time (ahem, Netflix).

#7 You’ve got this!

Finally, realize that you can do this. Motivation will never come from outside of you. Ultimately, you’ve got to make a choice. The good news is that you are fully capable of finishing the semester strong and with a smile on your face.

Camille Pruvost is a Christian Science nurse in her junior year majoring in music and minoring in religion. Her music ministry serves to inspire faith and to facilitate ecumenical and interfaith dialogue. This winter she will be traveling to Vienna, Prague, and Paris on the Music abroad to further her studies.

Beating writer’s block

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.

Slaying writer’s block

by Shannon Naylor

Every writer, however serious or casual, experienced or novice, will encounter writer’s block at one point or another. To some it feels like suddenly running into an insurmountable mental wall. To others it means not knowing where to start. The thing about writer’s block is that you can always chisel away at it. The question that remains is: how? Here are some strategies that I like to use in my own writing.

#1: Don’t give up. This is less a strategy and more of a philosophy, but it’s important.  Writing is not an activity that you can limit to times when you feel inspired. When you encounter block, acknowledge it and challenge it to a write-off. You will win every time.

#2: Talk to someone. It can be a friend, a roommate, even your cat. If nobody is around, talk aloud to yourself. Generally, we are accustomed to putting ideas into words verbally, but sometimes we block ourselves by thinking too hard about writing our ideas down. So take your ideas into an environment that they are comfortable in and put them where you can hear them. Test how they sound out loud. I often record myself talking through ideas when I’m struggling to write a paper because I’ve discovered that once I play it back it gives me a better understanding of what I want to say.

#3: Put your ideas in a different shape. I find that this is most useful when I’ve been working with an idea for a while and I’ve run out of fresh ways to approach it. So I draw my paper as a picture. Try dancing your essay, painting your story, drawing a map of the term paper. This will force you to examine your writing from a new angle and will hopefully generate new ideas about it. At the very least, you will have given your brain a way to recharge through a creative outlet.

So be brave, fellow writing adventurers, and slay your writer’s block.

Bonus feature: What follows is a model of the combination of strategies 2 and 3, slaying writer’s block by talking to someone and putting your ideas in a different shape. Enjoy!

Sir Stu Dent makes his way through the canyon along the winding way to the peak of Mount Capstone when a massive dragon lands in his path. The dragon’s name is emblazoned across his belly scales, a customary vanity among their kind. Wrytur Blok—a dragon that had claimed this peak as his home and terrified many of the knights who had come before.

Though Stu trembles before Wrytur Blok, he knows that the beautiful Princess A awaits him at the peak of Mount Capstone and he makes the bold choice to face down the dragon. He isn’t sure he knows how to defeat the beast, so he calls upon his trustworthy, wise companion—a magical talking book called Tudor.

“Tudor,” Stu cried. “How can I get past this accursed dragon, Wrytur Blok?”

Replied Tudor, “Quick, duck down behind yonder rock. He won’t see us there and we can form a plan. Dragons are susceptible to the human voice. If you speak at length, you may lull him to sleep.”

“Brilliant as always, Tudor,” said Stu, as he dodged a fireball and dove behind the rock.

Out of sight of the fearsome dragon, Stu described his ideas for winning the hand of Princess A by completing his quest up Mount Capstone. As he spoke, he found that the faulty parts of his plan became clear and he was able to mold it into something more viable. And as he discussed these schemes with Tudor, the angry huffs and puffs from Wrytur Blok dwindled and ceased until the rumble of the dragon’s snoring shook the walls of the canyon.

Stu crept from his hiding place and examined his situation. Wrytur Blok was far less intimidating now, but his bulk was still filling up the canyon’s mouth, thus preventing further passage up the mountain. “What now, Tudor?”

“I used to know a spell that would transmogrify a creature. There are a few ways to do it. Let me see… You can’t very well dance in armor. We didn’t bring any paints. That means you must draw the spell. Take the stick and draw the path to the peak while picturing the fearsome dragon as something harmless.”

Sure enough, a few moments of artistic endeavor resulted in a very bad-tempered frog hopping down the canyon and Stu hastening onward to win the hand of Princess A where she lived at the top of Mount Capstone.

Shannon Naylor is a junior studying creative writing and theatre. She performed most recently in Principia’s production of “Hush: An Interview with America.”