Let the words flow

September 25, 2016 05:00 pm | Updated November 01, 2016 08:32 pm IST

Every writer struggles with the writer’s block. But there is no need to panic. Here are some solutions.

Illustration for EP

Illustration for EP

A project report of around 5,000 words is due in a month. No sweat, you tell yourself. I have plenty of time. Meanwhile, you busy yourself with other jobs. As days morph into weeks, the 5,000 words loom larger in your consciousness. I will get to it, you say, while continuing to pursue other tasks. Three days before the deadline, you force yourself to sit down in front of your computer and type. But after the first two sentences, you are bereft of words. You’re panic-stricken. “How in the world will I produce 5,000 words in the next two days?” you wonder.

In his book, Procrastination and Blocking , Robert Boice explains how the twin constructs of procrastination and blocking can thwart many an individual. He defines procrastination as putting off “doing more difficult, delayable, important things” by choosing to perform other tasks that give short-term relief. So, instead of starting your report, you may decide to first clean your desk.

Blocking, in contrast, involves “getting stuck” at the beginning or end of a project, usually due to “paralysing anxiety” that the job will be externally evaluated. So, when you finally start typing, you are unable to think clearly to produce more than a couple of sentences. Boice acknowledges that procrastination and blocking are interrelated.

When we are overwhelmed by work, our typical response is that we need more time. Most of us feel that if we have more hours in a day, the unwritten report or the unread pages will magically get ticked off from our to-do lists. However, according to Boice, lack of time is not the crux of the problem. If we had more time, we would probably waste it by engaging in sundry tasks while the job remains unattended. Instead of more time, we need “better skills for using the time already available,” says Boice.

So, if you have a challenging writing task ahead of you, take out some time to engage in free writing, preferably on a regular basis. This involves writing without inhibition. In other words, you should write whatever comes to your mind without caring if it makes sense or is grammatically correct. In fact, if you need to write often on your job, engaging in fifteen minutes of free writing daily can help you unclog the cognitive filters in your mind so that your imagination is free to chart its own course. As no one but you are going to see your free writing, you may find it therapeutic. If you are more accustomed to typing in your computer, you may want to try doing the free writing exercise by long hand instead.

The essential point of this exercise is to free yourself of your own inhibitions. Write just about anything without letting your internal critic edit your thoughts. It doesn’t matter if your content doesn’t make sense. Just let the ink flow as you write.


Initially, to motivate yourself to write, you may reward yourself after completing a fixed number of pages. Boice suggests that you work in short, daily sessions instead to trying to run a marathon at the end.

Moreover, if your schedule permits, try and write at the same time everyday, so that you begin associating a particular time with your writing tasks. Further, you need to learn when to stop each day. Pushing yourself to write more than required can backfire as you may experience burn-out. Once your writing habit becomes regular, you may find that you don’t need to reward yourself extrinsically anymore.

In his blog on writing, author Jeff Goins says that besides procrastination and fear, another obstacle that prevents people from getting their thoughts down on paper is a need for perfection. You feel you need to have the perfect plan or outline before you begin. And, invariably, you don’t. As a result, you don’t ever begin.

So, instead of waiting for the perfect moment or the perfect opening line, or the perfect argument, just start writing. There is no sacrosanct rule which says you must start at the beginning or the introductory paragraph. If the middle section of the report is easier to write, then go ahead with it. You can always come back to the beginning later.

Further, if you already have some words down on paper (or your screen), your stress levels would abate and you are more likely to think of a more engaging introduction. Goins also warns against waiting till you feel inspired. Inspiration is more likely to strike if you keep writing regularly.

In an article in The Guardian , Professor Rowena Murray suggests that you can also do social writing, where you write with others in the room. For students, this is fairly easy to accomplish by going to the library or computer lab where your peers are working.

If writing is part of your job, you may discuss writing with colleagues who understand that writing is hard work, thereby allaying your anxiety. But all said and done, the best way to tackle the beast is to start writing. Now.

The author is director, PRAYATNA. Email:arunasankara@gmail.com

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