Finding a Place To Start Amidst the Chaos of Writer’s Block
Academics and scientists are not supposed to suffer from writer’s block. They are simply too busy, and once their research is done, their data organised and their analyses complete, the writing required to report everything should be an easy matter and one that does not consume too much valuable time. Yet the fact is that even a few pages of text can take a rather long time to draft when the goal is to report with accuracy and precision the methods, results and conclusions of advanced research. Then there is the matter of proofreading, correcting, revising and polishing, all of which require a good deal more time and effort. For some scholars, arriving at the point when the only remaining task is the pleasure of sharing their research with colleagues and other readers is a joy. For many, however, writing is a chore they would rather avoid, and while it is most likely that writer’s block will strike authors of this kind more often than the enthusiastic group, any writer can experience writer’s block at any time.
When writer’s block does strike, it can be a deeply frustrating experience. You sit there in front of your computer screen or perhaps with pen and paper in hand, your mind overflowing with thoughts, your notes and other data all around you, but no words come. It is essential, first and foremost, to remember that this apparent stasis is only a hurdle in your path, not an insurmountable problem, and that there are some practical ways to overcome it. One strategy that works well for many writers is to review yet again the sources, statistics, case studies, interviews, transcriptions, personal notes and other information that have inspired and resulted from your research. Yes, you are already familiar with all that information, and it may even feel as though the abundance and complexity of material competing for priority in your mind are part of the problem, but the object in this case is to focus on the most interesting and significant points with an eye to discovering the perfect place to begin. That striking statistic that first tempted you to consider your topic, the innovative methods that enabled you to approach the problem differently and the disaster in the laboratory that ended up leading to your best results are all good examples of starting points as likely to engage your pen (or fingertips) as your reader’s interest. It is not imperative, however, that this material actually ends up at the beginning of your final manuscript; it could just as productively be the beginning of the conclusion. What is important is that it allows you to start the writing process.
If you have not already prepared an outline of the document you need to write, it can be immensely helpful to do so. An outline narrows your focus to primary sections and headings while anticipating the inclusion of much more material, so it gives you bite-size chunks of information on which to chew. Such chunks can be much easier to bite into than, say, the larger mass of everything that must be presented in a paper, and if you include subheadings and list the main concepts you hope to cover in each section, your route will be laid out for you. You might begin writing the introduction first or decide to start by describing your methods, results or recommendations. Since actively writing is the only real cure for writer’s block, the main concern is to begin drafting material that will ultimately develop into some part of your manuscript, and recognising that you will have plenty of opportunities to edit and rearrange your text will help alleviate the pressure exerted by the desire for perfectionism that often contributes to writer’s block.
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