What to do when writing feels really, re-eeaaally really hard.

Over the past few months, I’ve heard a lot of writers talk about their unsolvable procrastination habits.  We’ve all heard about students who write papers the day before they’re due, and frankly, we’ve all been there, probably more than we’d like to admit.

The biggest problem, though, is the advice I give to these students, which is equally predictable:  “Make an appointment at the Writing Center.”  “Make up a fake deadline for yourself a week before the paper’s actually due.”  “Free-write, even if you don’t know what your idea is yet.”  “Write a draft the day you get the assignment, even if you don’t know what your idea is yet.”  “Do an outline, or a web, or lists, or a cartoon, or — heck, make a mobile!  Even if you don’t know what your idea is yet.”  Or — maybe the most frustrating one of all — “Just do it.”

In my defense, writing is a different process for everyone, and if you’re hearing the above advice for the first time, it actually can be pretty helpful.  Besides, if you’re really stuck, you’ll probably find issues with all of my advice anyway, no matter what it is.  (And I absolutely sympathize with that feeling, no matter how mad at me you are.)

While I can’t guarantee that all of my personal strategies will work for you, I can give you a few ideas for when the above advice just doesn’t cut it.  Here are some more “alternative” strategies for when writing feels like lifting boulders with toothpicks:

1.  “Writing isn’t about being a good girl,” Professor Gordon told me yesterday.  Interpret as you will, but it made me feel all rebellious — the seed of motivation and creativity!

2.  Talk to yourself about your ideas (out loud).  Really get lost in it, like you’re mad at your friend and practicing that speech where you tell her off in a really smart, thoughtful way, but know you’d never actually say any of it to her, so there are really no limits.  Be as condescending and passive aggressive to your paper as you please.

3.  Allow yourself to write something horrendous.  Really embarrassingly bad — unconventionally bad.  That can be a first draft, and it will probably be pretty funny to read to yourself, and you know they say laughter is the best medicine.

4.  Write an email to someone about your paper — you’ll probably write about the part that’s most confusing to you, which is probably where your best ideas are hiding.

5.  Write a blog post!  (See how many ideas I have that I didn’t know I had before?!)

6.  As you are writing, pretend you are in that scene from the last Harry Potter movie where Harry, Ron, and Hermione are running through the wreck of Hogwarts to get to the Shrieking Shack, where Voldemort is hanging out.  The soundtrack will make anything feel heroic (and thus motivated!).  I have to give credit to Connor Spahn (CC ’12) for this one.

Have any good advice?  Send it to clie@barnard.edu, and Fellow Voices will share it with all those people who are in the same boat as you.

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