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Overcoming Writer's Block
by Cynthia Schuemann
Miami-Dade Community College,

November is always a pleasurable month for readers and writers who can make it to the Miami area - hurricane remnants have blown away, stone crabs and Beaujolais nouveau are in season, and the Miami Book Fair International, with 250 authors, is in town. Each year I volunteer for the Book Fair as an auditorium supervisor. By volunteering in this area, I get the pleasure of hearing authors read and listening to Q-A sessions that follow. Invariably, audience members are especially curious about an author's process of writing across time and persistence despite possible unfavorable responses to early manuscripts. It appears that authors learn early to consciously develop personal rituals in order to succeed. I'll always remember a word to the wise from Tom Wolfe, "Writing is easy; take out a pen and bleed."

Have you developed a consciousness about your own rituals as a materials' writer? How do you get started? Does it take a pressing deadline to truly motivate you, or are you able to pace your production? Becoming conscious of personal process has helped me to procrastinate less and write to a better advantage. My consciousness developed in three ways: by considering the experiences of Book Fair authors, by journaling about the process during an independent study, and by reading about writing dissertations before attacking my own.

As mentioned above, authors bring to light for all of us that the creative process, when it comes to writing, cannot be only brainstorming and free writing. It takes discipline. I have discovered that I am not a morning writer, and that I need to read and think a lot before I write. Ideas need to incubate and mentally develop. I have also discovered that popcorn and diet coke help once words start meeting the page. Setting personal deadlines, in stages, is crucial for me. In reading about writing for dissertations, the advice from one article in particular continues to inform my process. In Writing Blocks and Tacit Knowledge, (1993) Boice discusses the issue of writing blocks as faced by all members of academic communities. In fact, he notes that "unempowered" feelings about writing are not only experienced by students in their early academic careers, but that fifty percent of qualified doctoral candidates do not complete their dissertations, and fifty to eighty percent of faculty at institutions of higher education need or want to do more scholarly writing, but do not (p. 20).

Boice developed a strategy to help writers deal with writing blocks. He coined the acronym IRSS for involvement, regimen, self-management, and social networking. Involvement means making meaningful choices about what we write (or about what we ask our students to write about). Choose your writing projects carefully. Relevancy heightens enthusiasm. Working on projects that can meet the needs of those in your own academic environment will frequently result in rich work that can serve multiple purposes.

Regimen calls for task management and balance. It is common to hear of professional authors who set aside specific blocks of time to write, during which they sit facing the pad or blank screen whether the muse hits them on a particular day or not. I must admit that this is one of the hardest aspects for me to be true to, but I know that working irregularly on projects can cause undo stress. It is good to be reminded of the need to apply regimen to writing.
Self-management relates to cognitive awareness of personally effective and ineffective writing strategies. We try to heighten ESL/EFL student awareness of environmental factors that influence writing through the use of surveys and discussion. We also teach students "ways in to writing" such as brainstorming. At times, we forget our own advice, thinking we should just be able to write. All writing takes some warm up. Take time to engage yourself and reflect on which individual writing strategies work best for you.

Social networking refers co-authoring and collaboration as a means toward fluency. Working with others, integrating experiences and sharing research and ideas can have a synergistic effect. Further, developing a network of responders and collaborators among colleagues can result in a support system that leads to writing persistence. It helps to know that another author is depending on you, or that friends who are part of a writers' group will be taking turns reading each others' work. These artificial early deadlines with peers can pave the way for "distributed practice" prior to meeting a publisher's deadline.

IRSS: Involvement, regimen, self-awareness, and social networking, when consciously applied, can be a direct way to overcome writer's block. The next time you sense the writing procrastinator on your shoulder, think about your writing rituals and try a bit of self-talk with respect to these four.

Boice, R. (1993). Writing blocks and tacit knowledge. The Journal of Higher Education 64 (1).