Writer’s Block, University, and Survival

Illustration credit: Julia Gavieta

By: Saf Shams, Features/Op-eds Staff Writer

Are you a writer in university? Do you fancy yourself a creative spirit? Are there dreams you wish to pursue and put on paper? Well, guess what?

Best we can do is writer’s block and a shot of espresso, bro. Oh, and there’s a test in two days: check Quercus.

As a wannabe creator myself, often indulging in writing or painting, I have found writer’s block to be a most indulgent adversary. He is cunning, spontaneous, and unrelenting like a vengeful ex, hell-bent on making life miserable every few weeks or so even though you want to move on. A debauchee, he seems to have dated every writer in existence (well, maybe with a few exceptions such as Brazilian author Ryoki Inoue) and somehow has made a profession of nagging us all.

In all seriousness, however, writer’s block is an issue faced by writers of all kinds: aspiring, rookie, or published. Yet the demographic who are in university and often of the two former kinds face a unique dilemma: balancing studies with creativity.

University itself is quite a daunting experience. We are thrust into a whole new world on the threshold between adolescence and adulthood, expected to thrive on our own. The educational quality and quantity is a far cry from high school days, and expectations, whether placed on us by outsiders or ourselves, are much more demanding. A sense of direness looms; We are, after all, the future of the world, and as such, university must be the measuring stick to test if we are worthy of it.

This, however, might lead to a bit of a problem. After all, we are not robots.

According to an article by Harvard Health Publishing, 63% of post-secondary students in the US reported feeling anxiety in 2017, further stating that “psychological distress among college students — that is, their levels of anxiety, depression, and stress — rises steadily during the first semester of college and remains elevated throughout the second semester.”

To add the proverbial cherry on top, a research paper states that 80% of writers experience an affective disorder—disorders that affect a way an individual thinks or feels—during their lifetime. Well, not too cheery for cherry, I suppose.

Stress and anxiety are significant physiological causes of writer’s block and are often accompanied by affective states such as burnout while also affecting the motivation of writers to continue writing consistently—a key tactic to avoiding writer’s block in the first place according to the aforementioned paper. These constant afflictions of stress, anxiety, and an overwhelming sense of burnout from the pressure of university are quite a monster we must overcome. 

To summarize, being a writer and a university student in conjunction is pretty darn hard. Duh.

And unfortunately, there are no easy or direct solutions to help solve these blocks which appear before us. The blocks faced by each individual are uniquely shaped to their own selves, a challenge only they themselves can overcome due to their experiences (Hero’s journey much?). Yet at times they prove to be too much, and passions must die for the sake of a future; Creativity must become a sacrifice at the altar of productivity.

So how can we, as student-creators, keep our fire kindling?

Well, a study primarily focused on established writers suggested twelve methods that help in fighting writer’s block. They are as follows:

·       Take a break from writing
·       Take a walk
·       Keep writing
·       Meditate/ do yoga
·       Read or revise current works/ skip ahead
·       Read a book or watch a movie
·       Discuss ideas with others
·       Eat or drink
·       Change writing location or method
·       Work on a different writing project

As evident, some of these options are quite contradictory, though they still fall under one of the two larger options: focus on something related to writing OR interact with the larger world beyond the page.

Personally, I have found the latter of the two to be more helpful in getting over writer’s block. As somewhat of a wayward romantic, I find that there’s a lot the world has to offer me in terms of inspiration. (When I am really bored, I sit by my window and make up stories for people passing by. Oh, the number of kings and queens I’ve crowned, the fairies I’ve conjured, and the occasional mermaids I have named are beyond me!)

Now I am not saying that herein lies the perfect recipe to conquering that blasted block but that should not stop you from trying them out. Perhaps one of these can help you through all your writer’s block, and perhaps you may need to vary it up a little. See what works for you! And be sure to be on the lookout for writing workshops or opportunities that the university provides for those of us who dream to earn a penny from making lies believable.

Before we part ways, I just wish to tell you this, writer to writer: for what it’s worth, I think you shall be able to overcome your writer’s blocks and all the hurdles that come your way. This story is yours to write. I believe in you. You’ll figure this out. Like all exes, you will get over it in time.

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