4 Ways to Outwit Academic Writer’s Block

Rachel Gardner has posted a much circulated blog on how fiction writers can jar themselves out of writer’s block. You can find it here. Unfortunately, most of her ideas are not applicable to academic writing, so I thought I’d offer some advice on how to rediscover your academic writing flow.

1. Read what you wrote yesterday. Gardner advises this and I agree. Often when I’m writing about theory, I think I’ve succinctly captured the gist of a complex idea. However, when I go back the next day, I find that I haven’t expressed the idea at all. What, I find are sentences that are stupidly obvious, s

uch as: ‘the other is the Other’; or sentences that make no sense because they are too theoretically dense: ‘Chalier ties the weakening of ontology to the fact of woman’s life and finds in this link the ethical state of being for-the-other.’

When I go back and reread what I’ve written, I become aware of what I don’t fully understand. I also become inspired to write until I do understand!

2. Accept that you may have come to a natural section or chapter conclusion and switch to a new section. I think many us, particularly when we’re new to academic writing, beat our ideas to a pulp. Don’t. If you can’t think of anything else to say right now, move on.

3. Take a break every 45 minutes. Often academic writers do not have the luxury of going to Starbucks, out for a walk or out shopping. We fit our writing time around our many other responsibilities, teaching, researching, families, jobs, etc. This causes enormous pressure to perform to build up during our scheduled writing time. Taking a short break every 45 minutes to go to the loo, make a cup of tea or do something mundane like take out the rubbish gives our minds just enough time to relax from that pressure.

4. Go back to your sources. When I feel I’ve tapped the well dry, I will often go back to the original books, look up new secondary sources or reread my own notes. This grounds me in the originality of my thought by exposing me to the issues that other scholars are talking about.

Hope you found this helpful.

Happy writing,



ps. the awesome cartoon in this post is from Poorly Drawn Lines: http://poorlydrawnlines.com/

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