How to Overcome Writer’s Block as an Academic Writer

It happens to everyone at some point: you have been writing at an astounding pace, the words flying from you faster than you can type them. You’re on fire. Then, suddenly, the words stop. It’s not that you don’t know how to say what you want to say—it’s that you don’t even know what you want to say.

You have writer’s block.


Writer’s block is not just reserved for creative writers; even though fiction writers are usually more vocal about it, anyone that is doing any kind of writing can get stumped. It is usually brought on because you have genuinely run your brain ragged, causing it to burn out on you. (Creative writers tend to confuse writer’s block and laziness; since you are reading this article and trying to find a way to cure your locked-up mind, I am assuming you do not fall in that category.)

The brain is just like any other muscle: Work it too hard, and it will give up. Think of writer’s block as a cramp in that muscle and then treat it as such: massage it, relax it, and then warm it back up.


The best “brain massage” (and writer’s block cure) is writing. Just sit down and write words, any words. Don’t filter them or edit them. Just write. Look out your window and describe what you see. Write about the worst date you ever had. Heck, if all else fails, write the lyrics to your favorite song. The point is to make words appear on your screen (or paper, if you’re still stuck in the dark ages). They don’t have to make sense. Your brain is locked up and refusing to create words, so spitting out anything at all will help get those linguistic juices flowing again. What you’re writing during this time shouldn’t be at all relevant to your actual writing project.

Days could go by while you’re still under the block; don’t fret. Just keep writing. Don’t, however, fall into the time trap. Many will allow themselves a block of writing time where they are required to sit at the computer. That’s exactly what they do—sit. Somehow, by looking at a blank computer screen for an hour, they feel justified in their attempts because they’ve been “thinking.” Don’t wait for inspiration to hit. Instead, set a word count or page quota for yourself. If you try to write for an hour, you’ll waste that hour and then be done; if you make yourself write five pages before dinner, then hunger will drive you to finish those five pages so you can eat.


When writing doesn’t do the trick, move on to step 2: Relax. Go outside. Take a walk. Go on a short trip, if you have the time and your project isn’t due immediately. Don’t think of it as giving up or goofing off. In fact, when you have an ongoing writing project, your brain becomes absorbed in that and external factors take on new meaning and relevance. The mind is always working even when you don’t realize it, and it is usually during these times of subconscious or passive thinking that your best ideas will come forward. If they don’t, at least you got a good moment of exercise and rest to blow off steam.


Now is the time to ease back into your original writing project. Start slow and don’t expect it to all come flooding back at once. Your other writing activities and your relaxation have given your brain a break from the problems of your work. Tiptoe back in. If you’re really stuck at the end of a paragraph and don’t know where to go from there, just leave it for now and begin a completely different paragraph or section. You can always come back later. Just keep writing.

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