By now, most students have a couple of weeks of the new school year under their belt. They know the daily routine, they're getting to know their teachers, and they know the best and worst offerings in the cafeteria.
That means it's about time for teachers to hit them with one of the toughest parts of schoolwork: writing essays and other compositions.
For many students, the hardest part of writing a paper is getting started--contending with writer's block.
Some teachers accept writer's block as a reality and help students overcome it; other teachers view it as an excuse for procrastination. Having to write regularly myself, I definitely believe writer's block exists, and have found some ways to bust it.
Instead of just sitting down at the typewriter or computer and waiting for magical words to flow, organize your thoughts first.
Brainstorming is a technique recommended by many teachers, and praised by many students, as a way to generate ideas and get into a writing mood.
What students like best about brainstorming is that there are no rules. Just write down every idea, fact, opinion or example related to the topic.
Disregard spelling, the order of your ideas, or even whether they make sense. Just get something down on paper.
"Quickwriting" is an alternative to brainstorming. Again, the purpose is to jot down as many thoughts as possible, but in regular written form, in a specific amount of time--say, 10 minutes. Use complete sentences, but don't worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar. Don't pause, even if it means writing "I don't know what to write" over and over.
Next, make an outline in which you list your ideas in some logical order, then start the rough draft.
Bear in mind that you don't need to begin with the introduction. Instead, jump right into the section that seems easiest for you.
In fact, I've discovered that an introduction more clearly reflects what follows if it is written last.
Even after you get a solid start on your paper, you may still run into a writer's block.
This often means that you just need a break. Try a variety of refreshing activities such as napping, exercising, listening to music, reading or viewing something funny, or taking a cool shower.
It is also helpful to temporarily divert your creativity to another area, such as drawing, playing an instrument, writing a poem or working on an assignment for another subject.
There is a danger when taking a break: You may be tempted to put off finishing the paper or may lose your train of thought, so set a time limit for your break and stick to it.
If your block is from a shortage of ideas or confusion about the topic, ask classmates or your teacher for help. They may offer a fresh angle that you had not thought of.
Changing your writing medium (pencil, typewriter, word processor) can sometimes help get you out of a rut too. Some of my students reported that using a word processor seems to make writing easier.
Finally, for a writer's block that occurs during a lengthy writing project, the best remedy is often an extensive break or lengthy one-on-one help from a teacher.
Mary Laine Yarber teaches English at Santa Monica High School.