Research papers, book reviews, journal articles, theses, monographs … scholars of all levels wrestle with writer’s block. Eventually, the house is just too clean, the dog too tired, the files too organized to continue to avoid pounding out a first draft and pushing that horrible, blinking cursor further and further along the page. Because every text is different, so is every bout of writer’s block. It’s essential to have lots of curatives up your sleeve, to mix-in-match the best solution for your specific problem.
Perfect Story Problems
Symptoms include confusion, inability to outline, enthusiasm for even the most menial of chores, feelings of unworthiness and shame
This form of writer’s block is one of the first a scholar may encounter, and its intensity has scared many a promising author of non-fiction away from their keyboard. Often accompanied by impostor syndrome, it is first introduced to the enterprising researcher as the realization that a topic has been well covered by others and there is, perhaps, not as much original scholarship left to be done than they once hoped. A series of false “Eureka!” moments lead to an eventual state of despair and confusion.
Optimus Yarnspinner’s Laxative
Optimus Yarnspinner is the narrator and protagonist of Walter Moers’ acclaimed novel, City of Dreaming Books. In Moers’ book, Yarnspinner, a dinosaur, inherits “The Perfect Story” from his literary godfather and sets out on a tale of mystery, deceit and danger to locate its gifted author. In his description of “The Perfect Story” at the very beginning of the novel, Optimus is, at first, incredulous that a few short pages on writer’s block, one of the oldest and most over-used of literary subjects, could be a masterpiece. After reading his bequeathment, he, like his godfather before him, despairs at ever being able to match such artistry. Optimus puts asides his authorial ambitions and sets out on an adventure instead.
- At the top of the first page, write either “I do not know what my paper is about because…” or “I do not know what to write about next because…”
- At the top of the next page, write “I had thought I would write about BLANK, but that failed miserably not because I am a failure, but because…”
- At the top of the third page, write “The section of this text that I am most afraid of is BLANK because…”
- Complete all three sentences in whichever order you like.
Like magic, you have text on the page about what the next section of text is about, what you hope to accomplish, and what you need to do next.
It might be verbal diarrhea, but who cares?
Re-outline if necessary and follow a regular writing/editing routine.