Three ways to get over (academic) writer’s block

March 4, 2020

White cat sitting on table with paws on laptop keyboard.This is Writer’s Block. Nothing to be scared of.

Written by guest blogger Michelle G. Ong.

No one’s ever said that writing a journal article is easy. If anything, the number of blog posts, university-run workshops, and published books on the topic is a testament to how challenging it is for academics who are nonetheless expected to do it a lot over the course of their careers. The fact is that even though we can have produced interesting results from research we painstakingly carried out, presented the findings in conferences, and written up reports, the translation of this work into a piece of writing that gets through peer review and eventually ends up published for public consumption is a separate challenge for most.

If you’re encountering what you think is a psychological stumbling block to writing up a journal article for publication, you might want to try some of the strategies below for getting over the anxiety and stress of writing and actually getting it done:

  1. Just seven minutes. If the thought of churning out an 8,000-word long document nauseates you, try committing to working on it every day for just seven minutes. Committing to such a small amount of time makes it low risk and low anxiety. You bear with the struggle for seven minutes and if you still don’t feel like writing any more at the seven-minute mark, you can stop and work on it again tomorrow. What is more likely to happen is you’ll find yourself in the middle of sentence or a paragraph at seven minutes and will want to complete the thought anyway. In this way, you get over the need to be motivated to write a lot and get on to writing something, even if it’s a just a little bit, which is still much better than nothing.
  2. Talk and transcribe. If you’re daunted by the thought of having to rewrite something you have labored over for so long and that you feel is already perfect in its current form, talk about your work as soon as you wake up in the morning and record it. You can try imagining explaining your work to someone you met at a party—possibly an interested but skeptical listener. Later in the day, transcribe this audio recording. This might be the beginning of a new outline, a new introduction, or a more focused argument that you can use to write that paper.
  3. Get feedback. If you have any bit of writing already done but are afraid what the editor or reviewers might say, have someone else read your work. Having another person provide feedback can help you improve the paper’s clarity and strength. You may team up with a colleague who is also in the midst of writing and help each other in this way. Receiving concrete, helpful feedback can get you writing as you focus on responding to each item, thus avoiding being overwhelmed by fear about the overall quality of the piece you are writing.

Do try some of these strategies and see if they work for you. In the end, I hope you find the difficulties of getting your article published worth the satisfaction of getting your work out there in a form that is useful to other scholars, policy makers, and program implementers.

Michelle G. Ong is an Associate Professor and current chairperson of the Department of Psychology of the University of the Philippines, Diliman. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Auckland doing research on Filipina migrants’ embodiment of aging. Her research interests include: aging, migration, children’s rights, qualitative methodologies, and critical psychology.

Her latest article in the Journal of Comparative Family Studies entitled “Who Cares? The Dilemma of Carework in Older Filipina Migrants’ Narratives” is free to read for a limited time here.

The UTP Journals blog features guest posts from our authors. The opinions expressed in these posts may not necessarily represent those of UTP Journals and their clients.

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