Creating a Writing Habit and Overcoming Writer’s Block

Working on writing grants and research reports can be daunting. We’ve all been there before, staring at a blank screen and nothing appearing on the page. Eventually, we tell ourselves, “I’ll come back to it, once I’ve run some errands, checked my email, cleaned the house, etc.”, anything to put off the dreaded task at hand.

How can we make it easier to tackle the paralysis of writer’s block?

One way to make progress when we’re feeling stuck in the writing process is creating a daily habit of writing. The more comfortable we become with this routine, the more easily the words will flow.

Getting Started
Find a quiet place to work, preferably a place where you aren’t distracted. Perhaps try getting up a little earlier in the morning, or stay at the office a bit later, after your colleagues have left. Be sure to shut down your internet browser and turn off all notifications during your scheduled writing time so you won’t be tempted to answer email, check a post on Facebook or start surfing online. For inspiration on how to minimize distractions read Deep Work by Cal Newport.

Reminder, Routine Reward
When it comes to creating a new habit, behavioral psychologists often refer to the “3 R’s”: Reminder, Routine and Reward. It can be helpful to attach your new habit to an existing one. For example, if you are planning on blocking off time to write in the morning, and you have a cup of coffee each morning, the coffee can act as your cue to write. Make sure you do your writing at the same time daily (routine), and keep it simple. Just show up, every day, for a specific period of time, and focus on time rather than word count. When your designated writing time is up, you can reward yourself with another cup of coffee, reading an article online, or anything else you find relaxing.

Remember, it is more important to put in the time than it is to produce a lot of content when building a habit. As time goes on, you can build momentum and slowly expand until you are spending longer periods of time writing or creating more content. Some days you may end up writing 50 words in an hour, other days 1,000 words in the same amount of time. The point is to regularly schedule time for writing each day. Try not to pay attention to the clock as you work. Set a timer and go! Use tools such as https://tomato-timer.com/.

Beating Writer’s Block
If you’re not feeling creative or if you feel stuck, it can be helpful to take a moment to assess your work. Read through what you’ve got so far and determine if there is anything that needs to be rewritten. If the thought of composing perfect sentences and structuring paragraphs is causing anxiety, simply try jotting down notes or ideas. See it as a fun exercise rather than a chore. Composition will occur naturally as you develop and connect these ideas. This can also ease anxiety that comes from trying to figure out what comes next when writing in a linear fashion. There is no need to write in order. Start in the middle! Start at the end! Everything can be restructured later on, during the editing process.

Don’t be intimidated by writing. Getting the words out is only part of the process. Try not to focus too much on word choice and structure in the beginning. The main goal is getting your ideas out and down onto the page. Do not strive for perfection in your first draft. There will be plenty of time for edits further down the line.

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