Most of us have experienced the sinking feeling, jitteriness, and avoidant thought patterns that can accompany the prospect of writing an assignment. Even if your mind is buzzing with thoughts and ideas, actually getting them all down in words can seem utterly overwhelming. So you end up unable to think about anything else, but equally unable to get started. This is blank page syndrome (also known as writer’s block).
Blank page syndrome often occurs when life is already stressful in other areas. That can mean work, family, friends, health or fatigue. If you’re in a state of anxiety and on top of that, you have an assignment to do, when you first try to put pen to paper or finger to keyboard you may well find your hand freezes and an empty page or screen stares back, grimly reminding you that you should be writing – but aren’t.
It’s easy to fall into a vicious cycle. You try to make yourself write, and get stressed; the more stressed you feel, the less able you are to write, to the point where you might be better off taking a temporary break and focusing on some self-care. But somehow, that assignment has to be written. The following suggestions might help:
Jot ideas down for just three minutes, against the clock. You don’t have to write full sentences or paragraphs yet; use key words, bullet points, spider diagrams… just capture those ideas in any way you can. There’s an old saying: ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.’ That three minutes was your first bite; you’ve started already. Now try timing a slightly longer session – perhaps seven minutes this time – in which you expand these ideas in a little more detail.
You might be over-thinking the introduction. Why not start in the middle – or anywhere you like? It doesn’t have to be perfect; just get some thoughts down on that page, and then you can tidy them up later.
Try to divide the assignment into sections. Work for a timed period, maybe 45 minutes, on each section. Or, if you prefer, work until you’ve achieved a targeted number of words on a section. Reward yourself in some small way – a chat to a friend, a coffee, a TV show, exercise – for achieving each work session or word target. Be proud of yourself!
A simple change can stimulate your creativity. If you usually work at home, try the library or café. Or at least tidy your desk and clear some more space for yourself. You could work on each section of your assignment in a different setting – even if that just means moving between different rooms in your home.
If you still can’t see the wood for the trees, this exercise might help. Try writing down, and finishing, the following three sentences: 1) I can’t write my assignment because… 2) I want to write my assignment because… 3) I will write my assignment because…. This exercise might help you to clear your head, understand your feelings a little more, and find a way forward.
All being well, at least one of these strategies will help you to overcome blank page syndrome and get that assignment written. But if you still feel stuck, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. Talk to your tutor, who will advise you on new ways to approach your studies. Good luck!