OPINION: Academia needs to better deal with writer’s block
The hallway becomes quiet as the last of your neighbors falls asleep. Having been in front of your laptop for almost four hours, you impulsively raise your watch when the counter hits 1am. blank screen upsets you even more.
The essay is due Monday, but you haven’t accomplished anything except typing a few unsatisfactory sentences and then deleting them. You are desperately trying to write something, but the muses, fickle as they always are, have abandoned you tonight. Writer‘s block has come for you.
I’ve encountered this scenario more often than I care to admit, and it’s reasonable to assume that other students have encountered similar difficulties. Writer’s block is simply unavoidable, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. We can’t escape those chin-scratching, sometimes gut-wrenching moments of writing, because no one draws inspiration from an inexhaustible source, no matter how accomplished or ingenious they are as a writer.
In a recent interview, novelist Jhumpa Lahiri confesses that despite her mastery of creating stories, she finds writer’s block simply cannot be avoided. Rather than seeing it as a frustrating obstacle, however, she sees this phenomenon as a natural part of the writing process, where “ideas swirl around in the mind.” Thinking takes time and ideas don’t come out of nowhere.
While some authors disavow the term as a fiction that unruly writers use to justify their procrastination, their alternative approach — namely that “you can always write garbage”, according to Rumaan Alam – is just a different embodiment of writer’s block. Yes, drawing a blank on a writing assignment does not mean that the student becomes physically unable to write, but in the absence of inspiration, his scribbling is no different from his premature thought process manifesting on paper.
Ultimately, there is no hierarchy between the two types of writing blocking: silent preponderance and active scribbling are both constructive, as long as the writer continues to work on their ideas with the goal. to describe. This positive approach to writer’s block facilitates good writing because it recognizes the writer’s need to take time and reflect on what they are doing. The writer maintains an optimistic frame of mind throughout this process, knowing full well that after much consideration, they will eventually summon their muses again.
One could even argue that writer’s block is a necessary prerequisite for effective writing, because if the writer completes his work without ever stopping to reflect on his themes, organization, and use of language , this work may turn out to be of inferior quality. Unexamined work is not worth publishing, and writer’s block, when resolved with a positive approach, allows the writer to undertake this crucial review.
Despite the constructive and indispensable nature of writer’s block, many people (especially students) still view it as an excruciating experience that should be eliminated completely. This view is more than understandable, as it shows how the relentless need for assessment within academia distorts the writing process of students. Having lived four seasons halfway through, I know how frustrating things can be when I’m stuck on a writing assignment while being dogged by five other deadlines.
I want to spend more time analyzing the prompt and writing a plan, but these deadlines, and the punitive implications they entail, deter me from doing so. Instead of tackling my writer’s block with the reflective approach, I would instead strive to produce as many lines as possible, even if my mind fails to keep pace with my hands. The result is often disastrous: either I sink deeper into the quagmire of literary emptiness, or I disdain my thoughtless writing so much that I have to start over.
This creates a vicious cycle of stagnation, where the writer, unsure of how to proceed in the face of the exogenous demand for constant productivity, finds his creativity drained by this mentally taxing contradiction. By forcing students to write on demand and holding back the time needed to overcome their writer’s block, tight deadlines cause students to dread academic writing and lose self-efficacy, leaving them simply content to “do this boring job.
Writing is no longer a difficult but a fulfilling process of knowledge creation. Instead, stifled by deadlines and the punitive academic tradition they embody, it becomes just another hoop to jump through.
Academic traditions surrounding assessment and discipline have warped writer’s block from a natural occurrence into an intolerable obstacle, but there is still hope for revitalizing scholarly writing. To do this, higher education institutions must abandon their current conventions of student writing for a more flexible and collaborative alternative. While they should maintain a deadline system to keep courses structured, they should ensure that deadlines are indicative only. Students should be allowed to turn in their work later than scheduled on condition that they make a sincere effort to overcome their writing block. Rather than punishing them for breaking deadlines, professors should engage more actively with students who are struggling to write and offer to help them in their thinking process. With these simple steps, academic writing will once again become a dignified and enjoyable endeavor.
Yifei Cheng PO ’24 is from Nanjing, China. He enjoys hiking, reading (especially fantasy literature), and playing Starcraft 2.