Writer’s Block

One of my jobs is at a community college as a writing tutor. It’s mostly a fun job, but about once a week I will get a student whose problem is, “I don’t know how to start.” What the students are describing is writer’s block. Luckily, writer’s block is not a problem I’ve experienced. But that made it harder to help the students. I would tell them that it doesn’t matter how they start, just write. I would add that they’ll be making changes anyway, so just get the ideas down on paper. I still think those are good ideas, but they never really worked for the blocked students. It took me a while to realize that writer’s block is really a form of stage fright.

Once I realized what the problem really was I became much more helpful. I stopped trying to help them with the writing and just started talking to them. I’ll ask them questions about the assignment, the readings, the class, anything to get them talking. After they talk for a while, they say something related to the assignment. At that point I interrupt and say, “Write that down.” I’ve found that if I can get them to compose verbally, they lose their fear. Once the fear’s gone, they are unblocked.

It does make me wonder why people find writing to be so scary. Nothing bad is going to happen. It doesn’t even hurt. Maybe it’s a holdover from when literacy was rare. People still think there’s something magical about writing. There’s a power there that they’re afraid to touch. Whatever the reason, it’s too bad. People should save their fear for scary things rather than wasting it on writing.

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