(IT’S NOT AS PAINFUL AS IT SOUNDS)
Ah, summer is here, but you're taking summer school, and with those insane accelerated classes and 80 degree weather outside, the papers are creeping up on you even faster than usual. What to write? All you really want to do is nap in the grass and stare at leaves. This too may have benefits in battling summer time writer’s block, but bring pen and paper with you.
So you are napping in the grass thinking about X broad paper topic. As you daydream, your mind may drift and start to make strange connections between X topic and other ideas. This may actually be helpful. Now grab your pen and paper and start to make a list, even if some of the things you list seem silly. Do this until your paper is full. Now look back at some of the things you have written down. Do any of them interest you more than the broad topic you started with? If one does, good. A key in fighting writer’s block is to be interested in your topic.
(Yes, what you are interested in. Trust us on this one. No matter how much you think you may be pleasing your Prof. in writing about something you think they want to hear, you’re not. If you are uninterested, it will show in your writing. 98% of the time you have a much better chance writing well about something of interest to you than poorly about what you think the Prof. wants.)
Now you have a more focused topic, but still don’t know what to write. Try this: Take out your pen and paper again and without stopping and looking at the leaves, time yourself for 5 min and write a paragraph non-stop on your new topic. It’s okay to let your mind drift and write weird ideas down. The important thing is to KEEP WRITING. When you have a paragraph you can do a couple different things. Either keep writing if you suddenly get inspired and have an overflow of ideas, or stop and find one sentence in the paragraph that you think is the most important. Start a new paragraph with that sentence and repeat the first step of this exercise. Your ideas may change or they may stay the same. If the idea changes, that’s great. You are probably getting closer to the subject that you really want to write about. If it stays the same, you may be ready to start writing.
If you are working on a research paper or something into which you have to incorporate a lot of sources, but you don’t know where to get started, consider the following: Get a pack of note cards. Now go though and write down on each note card a sentence or phrase that captures your interest from your sources. This could be as detailed or as broad as you like, depending on what you are working on. Once you have all the quotations that you may want to use, go through again and write down your own thoughts underneath the quotation on each card. When you are finished, spread out all of the cards and see if your notes on the cards could be grouped in any way. If they can, these points may become the body of your paper. Then think about what these related groups may have in common. If you had one idea to tell someone about this subject, idea, whatever, what would that be? This may be your thesis. Even if it seems hazy, this could give you a “working thesis” and a point to start writing. That wasn’t so bad, was it?
If none of this worked, go back outside and stare at more leaves or at the snazzy picture on this page.