The writing is the hardest part

By Juliana Adelman

So here I am again, surrounded by notes and papers and books littered with colorful sticky tabs.  I have more than enough material and yet I find myself making a list of other things I should look up.  This will give me a number of tasks in the library that will make me feel as though I am accomplishing something yet I will be no closer to the end result.  Of course writing is the hardest part because it is the task through which we add up facts to make something more than the sum of their parts.  Writing is the creative part of the historical process, the one in which you allow yourself into the picture.  You have to put all your flaws, or your potentially flawed arguments, on display for everyone to read.  It is much easier to keep gathering ammunition and hope you can simply bombard potential readers with facts until they beg for mercy and agree.  Not that I like to read anything written in this way, but at least it has the appearance of solidity.  This is my effort at breaking writer’s block and hopefully providing you with some interesting reading/listening as well.

Why is writing so hard?

Unsurprisingly, Google offered many answers to this question.  A lot of them seemed to be roughly equal to ‘Writing isn’t really hard!  You just think it’s hard! Go team!’  Hmm.  I may come across as very conservative here, but I think if you don’t struggle over writing then probably you aren’t writing much worth reading.  Nonetheless, the interweb agrees that writing is hard and suggests any number of reasons.  Here are just a few:

1. We are perfectionists.

2. Language is linear, ideas are not.

3. Writing involves lots of decision-making and most of us are not good at decision-making.

4. We read bad English and we think bad thoughts.

Techniques for dealing with writer’s block

First you should know what it is, and Wikipedia has a relatively lengthy entry (presumably written by a writer attempting to overcome said block).

1. Take some drugs.

2. Oh wait, no, that might not work.  Try finding something else to do and use writing to procrastinate on that thing.

3. Try some writing exercises: free writing or mind mapping, for example.

4. Start a blog.  University of Pennsylvania suggested this one, so it has Ivy League cred.

5. Join a writing group.  This one I can support whole-heartedly, my writing group has been on the go for over a year now and it has been a great source of support.  See guidelines here.

6. Change up.  Do something different, sit somewhere new, swap the computer for a pen, use a new pen.  You could also listen to some music, like this song I got my title from.

7. Bribe yourself.  500 words equals 1 hour of rubbish tv.

6 Responses to “The writing is the hardest part”

  1. Ninth Level Ireland » Blog Archive » The writing is the hardest part Says:

    […] “So here I am again, surrounded by notes and papers and books littered with colorful sticky tabs.  I have more than enough material and yet I find myself making a list of other things I should look up …” (more) […]

  2. Felix Larkin Says:

    Good piece, Juliana. I think there is only one way to avoid writer’s block, and that is to force yourself to write. Very often the problem is that we haven’t THOUGHT enough about what we want to write beforehand. Trying to write will stimulate the necessary thought. I recently read something relevant in a review in the TLS of a new biography of Herbert Butterfield (‘Whig interpretation of history’, etc.) by Michael Bentley. The reviewer wrote: ‘Bentley nicely observes that his subject’s immediately posthumous reputation may not have been helped by the fact that of the two men to whom he had been closest, one (Brian Wormald) “could not bring an essay to any conclusion”, while the other (Desmond Williams) “could not bring an essay to a beginning”’. I love that, and indeed can confirm its accuracy as regards Desmond Williams who taught me in UCD many years ago (when he bothered to turn up for classes, which wasn’t very often!).

  3. Tina Says:

    I sympathise, Juliana, as I’m trying to write an article and book chapter at the moment and find myself doing exactly the same thing – finding new secondary sources that just have to be read in full, even if there’s really only one relevant section/chapter, chasing up obscure facts, attempting complicated chapter outlines, etc. I’d suggest a variation of the bribing bit, based on a theory by an American self-help expert (I think! heard largely second hand from a devoted fan, my mom!) – ‘the way we’re working isn’t working’. Basically, work (i.e. write) really, really hard for a set amount of time – say an hour – then take a short break and do anything but your work. The idea is to refresh yourself during the break so that you can go back to your work with a bit more energy and thus work more effectively. (That’s the theory anyway!!) – Tina

  4. puesoccurrences Says:

    @ Felix: I think the reviewer has definitely hit the nail on the head on the two types of writer’s block, or the two types of ways that people find writing difficult. It’s either starting or finishing that gets you. At the moment, I’m in the ‘could not bring an essay to conclusion’ category.

    @Tina: Thanks for the tip. I had tried that once ages ago and found that it did work quite well and I should now go back to it!

  5. Pue’s Recommendations for September « Pue's Occurrences Says:

    […] Morin Like Juliana, I’m writing at the moment, or, I should say, attempting to do so and largely failing. So slow is […]

  6. new games every wednesday Says:

    Your style is really unique compared to other people I’ve read stuff from.
    Thanks for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I will just book mark this page.

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