Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Writer's block

Posted by Helen Wareham

Writer’s block is something I think everyone can relate to.

I had hit a point in my PhD where I really needed words down on paper. I’d neglected my introductory literature and systematic review chapters for too long and I had to do something about it. So at the end of March, refreshed after a week’s holiday, I made myself a cup of tea, cleared some space on my desk and sat down ready for the words to flow...

There were moments of sheer elation where it all seemed to be coming together and words would flow onto the screen.

Writing god
These were unfortunately followed by moments where I was sat staring at a screen for hours wanting to cry or set it all on fire in despair.

So here’s the big question: how do you get over writers block?

My partner completed her PhD last year and impressively seemed to have days where words just flowed, churning out 5,000 in a day at one point! But, I remember these days well. Entering her PhD shed (yes we had to build an outdoor office so she could work without distractions in isolation) I would be faced with empty bags of Haribo, bourbon biscuits wrappers, empty boxes of pro-plus, the odd glass which had contained a large measure of alcohol and Kirsty hunched over her laptop with a look on her face something akin to a squirrel on crack.

So whilst I was desperate, I thought it might be best to leave the avenues of excess sugar, caffeine and alcohol for my final months (I don’t want to peak too early).

"You’ve just got to get on with it Helen. Just keep going and if something helps go with it", were Kirsty’s words of wisdom.

What transpired for the last month was me working in different locations (including other peoples offices), succumbing to drinking masses of coffee, writing some despairing facebook statuses and various other little things to try and get through that mental wall.

Am I over my writers’ block? Have I found a magical fountain of inspiration? No, is the simple answer. But every day the word count went up a bit and eventually I hit the word target I’d set myself. What I’ve written isn’t amazing but I have words on a page and that’s what I need right now.

It’s seems a bit stupid to be so at the mercy of a simple brain freeze and it’s frustrating to not have any idea why and how these things happen or when they are going to pass. But I’ve come to think that the key attribute needed for success in completing a PhD is shear bull-headed unwavering persistence that you’re going to get through it. If along the way simply grasping desperately to anything that remotely helps, however silly and destructive, is what works then I’m just going to have to go with it and get on. My closing confession as to what helped the most over the last month...this picture and Britney Spears greatest hits on repeat.


  1. Hilarious. I was close to crack squirrel again today with my text panels :-#