Every academic writer gets stuck at some point in her life. Before continuing to spin your wheels, first identify: have you lost your writing path, or are you stalled? (Not sure? Read Joli Jensen’s Write no Matter What, chapters 19 and 22, respectively). If you’ve lost your path, try these three tips.
1. Go Big
Sometimes, we’re stuck because we’re too far down in the weeds or we’ve been with a project too long. If you feel stuck but think taking a break is detrimental (as Joli Jensen advises in most situations), reconnecting with the project as a whole can reinvigorate your enthusiasm. Spend a few writing sessions reconnecting with the ideas you’re trying to serve in this piece. You can free write or talk to a trusted colleague. Here are some prompts to guide you:
- What first intrigued you about the project? What were you curious to discover? How has the project changed over time as a result of what you’ve found?
- What 3 main ideas you want your audience to take away from your writing? Why are these ideas worth knowing?
- What do you hope other scholars do with your ideas? (Read more on the formula I developed to help me articulate this when I was revising one of my book chapters).
Want to know how to do this for your academic book as a whole? Read my post on why you should work ON your book before continuing to spin your wheels IN it.
2. Go Small
When I’ve gotten stuck in the past, I’ve usually successfully combined “going big” with going extremely small: reconnecting with the objects themselves. Oscillating between working through my own understanding of the project as a whole (or a larger unit of the project) and close readings or analyses usually helps me reconnect with both the forest and the trees at the same time. In this exercise, revisit one or more of the objects you analyze with fresh eyes, using the following questions:
- What’s going on here? (Summarize and make observations)
- What’s similar to/different from other objects you analyze in the piece?
- How would you explain the main point of your analyses of this particular object to an undergraduate student?
- What stands out to you that you’ve never noticed before?
- What other evidence do you see to support your interpretation/analysis?
- So what? Why should your undergraduate student care?
3. Write By Hand
Writing by hand can help you combat stuckness in many ways. First, in my experience, the physicality and materiality causes me to relate to my ideas in different ways than when I type them. Second, I frequently find myself stuck at the point of fitting my ideas to the best structure. So, the non-linearity of writing by hand (I draw arrows everywhere) helps me explore and connect my ideas. Finally, writing by hand feels lower-stakes to me than writing on the computer.
Try these write by hand ideas:
- Spend 10 minutes writing down all of the things that are bothering you about the piece of writing. After making this list, order them from most to least troubling. Then, spend at least 10 minutes writing by hand about each of the top 5 prompts.
- Write down your project’s key words, main points, logical progression, and main objects of inquiry. Draw arrows and write phrases/sentences to show how they relate to each other.
Have a tip that always works when you get stuck? Tried out the tips above and found greater clarity? I’d be so grateful if you’d let me know by email!