May 2022 -->

Walden University Writing Center

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MAY the Writing Force Be With You: How to Use Freewriting to Get Past Writers' Block

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Because of punniness, May has unofficially become Star Wars month. And as a writing instructor, I love a good pun.

I also love Star Wars movies. I love the concept that people of all different backgrounds, histories, identities, can come together to work for an important change. I love that so many of the franchise's heroes are misfits: a scavenger with a bounty on his head, a thief who lost her parents as a child and was abandoned by her guardian to fend for herself, a farm boy from a plane that no longer exists, a run-away Stormtrooper, a re-programmed Imperial security droid. And I love the idea that our thoughts can be super powers.
I think this is an important idea to remember when staring at a blank page or a blank document on the computer screen. While I know that willing words to appear doesn't actually work (and I've tried!), there is something almost as simple that does. It's called freewriting, and it's a technique I've promoted to students for years. But I never realized its true power until I hit a major roadblock in my dissertation.
Freewriting involves writing non-stop for a set amount of time. I used a five-minute sand timer to start; and it's surprising how long five minutes can feel when you're not allowed to stop creating words on a page. I've read that writing by hand can be especially helpful*, but I personally set a timer and told myself to type until it ran out. I started by trying to type out what it was I couldn't get past. It looked something like this: 

    how do i move from one topic regarding the protagonists of these novels to talking about realworld
    situations and how they might influence and be influenced by such novels and why this is important
    to anyone else in the world

I forced myself not to delete or worry about grammar or punctuation. The not deleting was especially difficult for me, but it was also what ultimately led to my breakthrough. As the sand ran from the top of my timer to the bottom, my document started to meander:

    the idea that i know i can't move into a new thing the concept of real world and literary
    representation and characterization and my general themes the themes need to transition but how do i
    where can i go from the theme of this protagonist to the theme of this other protagonist and
    differntiate enough do i need multiple chapters about these protagonists to make sure i can write
    about all the ideas i wanted to mention....
By attempting to articulate my problem--and not worrying whether or not I was articulating it well--I realized what was keeping me from moving on: I was organizing my chapters in an ineffective way. I had created an outline and, while it helped me remember different points I wanted to make, I was trying too hard to stick to its structure. I hadn't even realized I was doing least not consciously. By allowing myself to ramble without any specific objective or goal, I allowed my brain to follow its own course rather than the one I'd initially intended. 

In the Star Wars films, characters go through physical, emotional, and developmental journeys--and they usually don't go as planned. And while they might "have a bad feeling" about where something is going, they push past fears and frustration and disproportionate odds to attain their goals. 
Fortunately, we're not (usually) up against an Imperial foe when it comes to writers' block, even if it sometimes feels that way. But I encourage you to channel your inner Jedi and trust your instincts when it comes to working through a difficult project. Walden students are focused on making positive social change with their scholarship. And that's a Force I can really get behind.

*If you're interested in the benefits of writing by hand, here are a few great reads:

Mueller, P. A., & Oppenheimer, D. M. The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychological Science, 25(6), 1159-1168.

Tank, A. (2020, November 23). The psychological benefits of writing by hand. Fast Company.

Kacy Walz is a writing instructor from St. Louis, MO. She is not a Jedi (sadly), but she is a doctor of philosophy. Along with her work on the blog, Kacy also cohosts the Walden Writing Center podcast. Her favorite Star Wars film is Rogue OneSend me new posts by e-mail! button 

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