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Break the Block: Find a Suitable Environment

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Writer’s block is unpredictable. Sometimes it stays with you for long periods. Sometimes it arrives suddenly at the end of a long project, only to make the final days grind by. The staff of the Walden University Writing Center is made up of writers of all different ilks, so there are plenty of ideas floating around our Center on how to address writer’s block. Join us today as our bloggers begin a series of posts describing their strategies for overcoming this mental obstacle. Your task might not be easy, but with hard work and these helpful posts to guide you, you’ll be able to break the block

Break the Block words coming through a broken pane of glass

Writers block is something most writers face—it is that time when you just stare at a blank page, your mind wanders, and eventually you just feel like giving up. In fact, I faced writers block while working on this blog post despite the fact that I thought I had what I planned to say all figured out.

There are several ways to beat writers block and finding a suitable environment is one of them. By a suitable environment, I mean a place where the environment you are working in is going to lend itself to productivity as opposed to working against it.

So what, exactly, does it mean to find a suitable environment? Generally speaking, there are three types of environments: those you have control over, those you have some control over, and those you have no control over whatsoever. It goes without saying, then, that the most advantageous environments for beating writers block would be those you have complete control over. That said, having access to such an environment might not always (or even ever) be a reality. Regardless, it is still possible to carve out a space and create a suitable environment. Here are three tips to consider: know what environment works best for you, know where you will have privacy with little to no distractions, and know when and how to wing it.

Know What Environment Works Best for You
When I was working on my dissertation, I switched up the physical environments where I worked a lot: I worked at home, the library, and several different coffee shops. What these places had in common was that they all provided me with the “right” environment to work in. Of course, one person’s “right” environment is not necessarily going to work for another person. For instance, I might not mind the soft hum of white noise at a coffee shop, but some people might find coffee shops too noisy and thus distracting.

In order to determine what environment works best for you, you need to determine what doesn’t. For instance, I enjoyed working at coffee shops because it provided me with less distractions that home did. While at home, I could give myself several excuses to take way too many breaks since I was home and time seemed almost limitless. For instance, I could take a “nap” or surf the internet, thinking that I could make the time up by staying up later than planned when I never did because I could always lay down later and take another “nap” only to find myself waking up the next day with my writing goals not met.

Speaking of distractions, then…..

Know Where you Will Have Privacy with Little to no Distractions
Distractions might be understood to fall into two categories: those created by you and those created for you.

While you might not have total control of the environment that you work in, you do have control over avoiding known things that serve as distractions. For example, placing your cell phone in a different room might help keep you more focused. As well, you might place inspirational things around you while you work such as your masters diploma, things that represent your future career after graduation, or inspirational quotes: avoiding known distractions and a little bit inspiration can help you stay focused so you can work through writers block.

In terms of distractions that are created for you, such as a noisy household, it is important to find a place where you can work and let others know that you need your time to do so. If the only place you have to work is your kitchen table and the whole family is home in the other room watching TV you might request that they keep the noise down to a minimum and try not to create any distractions for you—you might even set aside a time each night where everyone is aware that, for instance, this is your two hour window to work on your papers.

Know When and How to Wing It
As a Walden University student, you might already be in the midst of your professional career which means carving out time and space to work might be nearly impossible. This, of course, can make navigating beyond writers block difficult. But, sometimes, you have to work with what you have. For instance, you might need to start a draft during a lunch break or while you’re on the train to work.

While this is not the ideal, it is important to remember that perfect environments are like unicorns: a concept that seems almost plausible (they are kind of just horses with horns, after all), but in the end is a myth (magical horses that fly, less plausible). To be clear, even a suitable environment that you have total control over can produce writers block (like when you allow yourself to get distracted).

That said, what is a suitable environment to you? How have you carved out your own?

Veronica Oliver
 is a Writing Instructor in the Walden Writing Center. In her spare time she writes fiction, binge watches Netflix, and occasionally makes it to a 6am Bikram Yoga class.  

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