One of the hardest tasks of writing is choosing a topic, deciding what to convey about that topic, and continuing to write when you’re stuck. Choosing the wrong topic or failing to create a quality outline can cause writer’s block while an excellent topic and a quality outline make the writing process so much easier and more enjoyable.
Can’t think of an essay topic?
- Ask the questions. When you’re struggling to select an essay topic, ask yourself questions based on your class textbooks, the subject of the class, or other course material. What interests you in the class? What do you want to learn more about? What confuses you? What do you think is important? What can you connect to something you enjoy? Is there enough information on this subject to reach the word count for your essay?
- Choose a topic that is both interesting to you and relevant to your class. For instance, when I had to write an essay about the movie Inception, I decided to write about the costumes in Inception, since I enjoy fashion.
So you have a topic. What next?
- Narrow down your topic to fit the size of your essay. In my essay about Inception, I decided to write about how each character’s clothes emphasized their personality and their role in the story. Choosing too broad of a topic might overwhelm you, causing writer’s block.
- Brainstorm what you want to say about your topic. In this stage, I wrote down basic observations about each character’s clothing, how it changed throughout the movie, and how it compared to each other’s clothing. If you are writing a persuasive paper and can’t decide which position to defend, try creating a pros and cons list. For instance, if you want to discuss whether social media is worth having, create one list of all the advantages of social media and one of all the disadvantages.
- Collect as much info as you can. As many observations, facts, pros, and cons as you can think of to ensure that you are thinking through your topic thoroughly. After brainstorming on your own, start researching your topic, and add any helpful quotes or ideas to the notes you’ve already made. Be sure to cite any ideas or facts you take from another source in your paper!
- Write your thesis statement. After thoroughly contemplating and/or researching your topic, write your thesis statement, which informs readers of the main point of your essay. My thesis statement for my essay on Inception was something like “The costumes in Inception influence how the audience views each character.”
- Prove your thesis. After you have created a thesis statement, look back at all the observations, facts, or pros and cons that you previously collected for three main points that prove your thesis statement. For instance, if you wrote a paper about thrift shopping, your thesis statement might be “One should consider shopping at thrift stores before retail stores.”
- Determine three main points. After looking over your brainstorming notes, you might decipher three main points that demonstrate why one should thrift: it is healthier for the environment, it is cheaper, and it is enjoyable, each of which should suffice as its own paragraph in your essay.
Started writing but now you're stuck?
- When you write a rough draft, don’t stop writing. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or sentence structure, just write. Let yourself focus purely on content in the first draft and then focus on style and grammar in your following drafts. Even if you’re stuck, start writing something down related to your topic even if you know you’ll have to delete it later. The act of writing will stimulate your thinking and creativity, pushing you back into the rhythm of writing. Allow yourself enough time to write several drafts!
- Don’t let stress, discouragement, or distraction block your ability to write. Sometimes I am so stressed about finishing a paper on time that I can’t focus on writing it! When this happens, I try to close my eyes and take a few deep breaths while I let go of all the stressful, discouraging, or distracting thoughts crowding my brain.
- Change up your routine. Sometimes changing up your routine allows your thoughts to flow easier. Try changing where you write, what you use to write, when you write, or any of your other typical writing conditions.
- Take a break. Taking a break from writing allows your mind to rest so that when you begin writing again you have a fresh mind and fresh eyes. Since writing exercises your mind, try exercising your body while you rest from writing. Try a walk, a run, a yoga session, or your go-to form of exercise. Otherwise, try taking a shower or sleeping.
As frustrating as writer’s block is, don’t delete your entire essay! Writer’s happens to almost every writer, and it is possible to overcome.