Working with Writer’s Block

Writer’s block happens to the best of us. From forgetting your information to not knowing where to start, we’ve all been there. The good news is that it is temporary. Here are some amazing tips for coping with writer’s block.

Change Locations

Oftentimes, changing locations will help provide you with a new perspective. A number of authors (such as Richelle Mead or Michael Grant) have said that when they have writers block they leave their houses. Some of them go to a hotel, some to a coffee shop. The important thing is to avoid somewhere with a lot of distractions. Don’t go to the park, if you’re a people-watcher. Don’t go to a book store coffee shop, if you’re going to be distracted by the books. You know what works best for you.

Take Breaks

If you find yourself drifting off, it’s time for a break. You can go on Facebook, read a book, take a walk. Most importantly, you need to give your brain a break so that you know you are producing your best work. It’s also important to allow yourself time to process what you’ve already written. It will stop you from thinking too hard about something, which can cause your piece to sound confused. Most likely, you’ll confuse yourself as well. For example, you could be thinking it needs to be researched and cited, but really you just need to write your opinion.

Free Write

Write about something else for a while. This is akin to taking a break. It will allow your mind to focus on something else. You could write whatever comes into your head on a separate piece of paper or in a separate document, in a manner similar to a journal. There doesn’t even need to be cohesion. If your brain jumps from a test to a train, follow it. However, be careful not to mix your paper and your thought stream together until you are struck by a new idea for your piece. You should try to brainstorm for a while and don’t get so absorbed in your new topic that you forget about what you need to do. This gives your mind a break and allows you to get some of your distracting thoughts out of your head. If you happen to write something related to your topic, incorporate it into your old topic. Most importantly, know your limits. If all you can think about is food, it’s probably time to eat something. You won’t be able to produce your best work if you aren’t able to focus on it.

Music

Listening to music stimulates the brain. Multiple studies, including one by Johns Hopkins School of Education, show that music helps students learn and remember new information. It also focuses the student on the task at hand. I have found that music helps me to get past writer’s block. In fact, I’m listening to music as I write this. Music is important. You can create your desired environment through the different genres of music. If you want relaxed, listen to orchestral music. If you want upbeat, listen to pop. There is a music genre for any type of environment you want, it just might take a while to find it. I personally listen to my Lindsey Sterling station on Pandora while working on papers. The instrumentals help me to focus on my work without distracting me with lyrics. She also has a bunch of cool songs.

Keep these ideas in mind next time you are working against writer’s block. It is necessary to learn how to get around it, so you can write your paper the way you want. Writer’s block happens, but we don’t need to let it rule our finals weeks.

Creating a Research Question

Undergraduate research at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is an amazing opportunity for students to pursue, is celebrated by faculty and staff, and helps many students to explore their passions through research. To learn more about their program, visit the URP homepage.
As a student, I know that research can be appealing not only for the personal interest that it provides but also for the practical experience that it can contribute to future professions. One of the practical questions that students who want to begin in the undergraduate research program ask is, “what do I want to research?”
Creating a research question is one of the first ways to get started with undergraduate research. So…how do you pick a research question? What constitutes a good research question? Beginning to think about these questions is essential for students wanting to step into the world of undergraduate research.

What is a research question?

To start thinking about what would be an appropriate research question to ask, the definition of a research question must be explored. A research question is essentially a clear, focused, concise, and arguable question that you can focus your research on. This can and will look different for each person, as people are not monoliths: they each have different interests, ways of thinking, and ideas for their research.

Find a topic that interests you

To begin thinking about what you want to research, think about a field or topic that is particularly interesting to you. For example, if education and personality are two topics of interest, you could make a list of ways in which those two topics could intersect. To take my example above, you could examine introversion and extroversion in the classroom, how personality affects where students choose to sit in a lecture hall, or how the personality of the teacher affects student perceptions of the subject being taught. These are just examples, but beginning to write out some options helps immensely in the research process. Also, it is key that you are interested in your topic, since it is plausible that you will invest a good amount of time into writing proposals, research, and dissemination.

Pre-research

The next step in the process is to begin doing a bit of preliminary research on the topic. This doesn’t have to be anything extensive but having an understanding of what other research and resources are available to you is a helpful thing. A little pre-research on google or through the library databases can help you see any ways to modify and strengthen your question.

Significance

Your question should hold significance, as it must be both meaningful to you and helpful or interesting to those you would be presenting to. For example, if I were to research the impact of collaboration and group work on introverted students in the classroom, this would be interesting to me and informative for both students and educators.

Too broad? Too narrow?

Another aspect to consider when creating a research question is, “is my question too broad or too narrow?” Looking at an umbrella topic, such as childhood obesity, could result in too many options of how to move forward with research. Likewise, looking too specifically at a topic can yield little to no results. Finding a topic that is a manageable size to research is important, saving a lot of time and stress throughout the research process.

Further Resources

There are multiple excellent resources that are available to students who are creating a research question. Below, find two helpful links and one short informational video.
George Mason University’s Writing Center provides multiple quick guides to help with a variety of writing needs. Check out their guide entitled “How to write a research question.”
Grand Canyon University also provides an example of a step-by-step formulation of a research question on their center for innovation in research and teaching website.
Finally, Georgia State University’s Center for Instruction and Innovation created a short video explaining the process of creating a research question. View the video below:

The Writing Process: Is there a “Right” Way?

Recently, on social media, a picture of a paper about Rosa Parks circulated. The student opened with an honest and witty sentence of extreme self-disclosure that appealed to a lot of my peers and contributed to the photo’s virility. See the aforementioned paper’s blatantly honest and sassy opening below.

Rosa Parks 4


Through the numerous shares and comments that it received, it is clear that this paper struck a chord with multitudes of student writers. I sent this photo to a couple of my friends who are studying to be teachers, and we laughed about the opening statement, while feeling sorry for the professor. We found it impressive that this student was able to encapsulate quite a few thoughts that we have had when composing a paper in one extra-long sentence. Yet, as I have thought about this idea further, a few questions have arisen. Is this, truly, what the writing process is like? Are we forever doomed to long nights and caffeine dependence to just meet the requirements of papers, research, and other writing assignments that we pursue? Is there another way? Is writing something to hold a somewhat disrespectful attitude towards? Perhaps, instead of believing that writing comes only out of an impressive caffeine addiction and sass towards professors, we need to shift our thinking about what actually constitutes the writing process, and examine some core truths about writing.

Debunking Common Writing Myths

There are quite a few myths surrounding writing. It is easy to believe these widely known and highly circulated ideas, and I hope to shed some light on four ideas that are accepted as common and to reveal truths about writing.
  1. Good writers are born that way. Like anything else in life, some people are better writers than others. However, remember that the vast majority of people who are good writers have put in hours of work and learned through the process of writing.. Also, know that no one is born with a perfect understanding of grammar, mechanics, and idea organization. All of these things may come easier to some, but most writers would say that there is a learning process involved in writing in which they are continually improving. So, when you begin to think that writing is for the select few, remember that J.K. Rowling received multiple rejection letters and still continued to write. The truth is that everyone and anyone can become better writers, as there is always room for learning and improvement.
  2. Writing is always hard. I’ll be honest. Writing can be difficult and frustrating, taking time, input from others, and multiple revisions. However, when you believe that there is no hope to make writing easier, you’ve lost half of the mental battle. One of my teachers once told me, “write what you are passionate about.” When we are writing about what we know, love, and are invested in, our writing can be interesting and engaging. When this happens, the difficulty of writing begins to fade.
  3. Writing isn’t always valuable. Writing of any kind has value, because the writer is learning, processing, and practicing as they write. Even if no one else ever reads writing that is produced, the mere experience of putting thoughts down on paper holds value, the value of practice. Therefore, assignments that may seem pointless to students in a college class do actually have value. These assignments are opportunities to engage with writing and gain more practice. Like the earlier photo, the paper on Rosa Parks may have seemed pointless to the student but held value because the student learned, engaged, and wrote what he knew.
  4. There is a ‘right’ way to write. Everyone writes differently. There is no ideal setting in which inspiration flows effortlessly, so believing this myth can be detrimental. Some people write best at certain times of day, in quieter or noisier environments, with their dog sitting next to them, or a glass of iced tea close by. Ultimately, writers need to find what works best for them, and realize that what works for them in one case may not work for them in all of their writing. Writing is an organic process that looks different every time that you engage with it; learning more about yourself and your tendencies can help make writing less daunting. Yet, it is important to realize that there isn’t a wrong way to engage with writing and that how, where, and why you write can, and probably will, change throughout your life. All this being said, it is true that there are some really helpful resources for writers that can help them along in their writing. Talking through writing, drafting, and examining models of writing can help writers immensely. However, none of these things fit into a perfect formula that help writers produce writing.
    1. Rethinking Writing

      These myths are pervasive in our culture. The Rosa Parks paper does connect with students on many levels like revealing frustrations about writing. Though there are days when every writer has his or her frustrations, the truth is that writing can be more interesting than we believe.  When we see writing as a chance to grow, a chance to build our writing skills and our knowledge, and a chance to see things from a new way, our motivations change. Writing can accomplish so much; it can build worlds, inspire, inform, and engage. When we begin to think about our audience, our ability to learn through the process of writing, and our opportunity to have a chance to inform audiences and make them think, our writing may take on new nuances. Student writers, by changing their perspective, can use writing powerfully.