I came across a link to an article about 10 types of writers block and how to overcome them. However, the answers all assume you’re trying to write a story. I thought I’d try taking the 10 types, and re-write the answers with a more “grad school” theme. I’m going to split it into two parts, with this one containing the first half of the list.
1. You can’t come up with an idea. Or you can’t get the first words down.
“This is the kind where you literally have a blank page and you keep typing and erasing, or just staring at the screen until Angry Birds calls to you. You literally can’t even get started because you have no clue what to write about, or what story you want to tell. You’re stopped before you even start.”
I always find those first words a challenge. At least in grad school it’s rare that you’re expected to start writing without an idea. But, getting those first words down can be a huge challenge. I’ve found for me, the best way to get around this, is to just start writing down any thoughts I have about what I should write. Break up your document into the sections you need (like introduction, related work, experiment, results, conclusion, etc) and then write down any key words or phrases that come to mind. Often writing down a couple of words will soon turn into a couple of sentences. Don’t worry about making sure it’s “right” just focus on getting something down to start.
2. You have a ton of ideas but can’t commit to any of them, and they all peter out.
I think of this one as you know what you want to write, but you have too many thoughts on how you can go about that. How should you organize your paper? What information goes where? What’s important? What should you focus your emphases on? Each time you try to go down one path, you end up getting stuck and thinking another path is better. If you’re in this boat, it’s probably because you haven’t found the right angle for your paper yet. And you’re mind is still trying to sort out the best line of attack. Each time you switch ideas and start writing in the “new” format don’t erase what you’ve already written. Eventually, things will start to meld and make sense, and, with some editing, you can use all the content you’ve already generated.
3. You have an outline but you can’t get through this one part of it.
In this case, you may have either over outlined your paper (yes it’s possible to do that) or included a section that is either repetitive or not required or you’re at a part you just don’t want to write. If it’s one of the first two scenarios, look at what you’ve written, and what you’ve planned out. Are you dividing up your paper into to many sections or subsections? Did you actually write about your current section under a different heading somewhere else? If it’s just that you don’t want to, then skip it for now. There’s no rule saying you must write your paper from start to finish. Sometimes it’s easier to write a section when you’ve already written what’s going to follow it.
4. You’re stuck in the middle and have no idea what [to write] next.
Hopefully before you started writing, you had at least a loose outline about what you wanted to talk about where. Which can usually, but not always, prevent this problem. One reason is that you’re having problems because you actually wrote about your current section earlier, and need to spend some time re-organizing your paper. Another, is that you went way off track in an earlier section, and now your paper is focused on a completely different angle then you planned for. Re-read what you’ve written so far, and figure out what scenario you’re in. Re-organize and/or edit your paper to get yourself back on track.
5. You have a terrible feeling your [paper] took a wrong turn a hundred pages back, and you only just hit a dead end.
If you’re absolutely sure that you’ve gone the wrong way, then there’s no point in going forward any further.
But, it’s unlikely this is actually the case. Most likely, you’ve been working on your paper for too long and have become so bogged down in the details that you’ve started second guessing yourself. You don’t get to the point of writing a paper if you haven’t actually done the research. If your research was really that terrible, there’s no way you should have ever started writing in the first place. Take a break from you work, probably at least a day, and then look at it with a fresh perspective.