I find getting the words down on paper very difficult

Summary

Difficulties in beginning writing can be caused by a number of factors such as anxiety about producing poor work, a lack of confidence in one's own abilities or not knowing how to start. Even professional writers have some experience of this, hence the well known term 'writer's block'. It is worth remembering that this is not an uncommon problem: it can affect the most able of writers. One strategy to overcome writer's block is free writing. This is a technique where the focus is not on what you write, it is on putting something down on paper regardless of content.

PRIORITY ACTION 1: use free writing to break the block

The aim of free writing is to move from a blank page to some form of writing - even if it isn't related to the task in hand. The technique works by getting you to put some words on paper to release the stress of beginning the writing process. For example, you could begin to write about why you chose that particular essay question, what you find interesting about the topic or what you find difficult about the essay question. The aim is to just get you over the barrier of beginning to put words down on paper. Write as much as you can about these or any other topics that come to mind until you have an idea of something that you can write that relates to your essay. The important point to bear in mind here is that you can begin writing any part of the essay - it doesn't have to be at the beginning, so start with any points that occur to you.

PRIORITY ACTION 2: begin the essay at the easiest point

For many writers, beginning at the start is not always the easiest way to begin a piece of writing. Instead, as you work on free writing, write down any ideas or points about the essay as they occur to you. Once you have some ideas about the essay, choose as your starting point one of the ideas that you find easiest to explain. Once you have written what you think you want to say about this point, refer to your essay plan and select another point that you feel confident writing about. Continue in this way until you have covered all the points on your plan. A useful tip if you are drafting by hand is to write on every other line so there is plenty of space for making changes in the later stages of review. For the points you find difficult to write about, try verbalising your thinking prior to writing.

PRIORITY ACTION 3: verbalise your thinking prior to writing

Many people find that they can explain verbally ideas even when they find it difficult to explain them in writing. For this technique either enlist the help of a friend or use a voice recorder. Choose the point you are having difficulty writing about and either explain it to your friend or record yourself as you imagine you are explaining the idea to an interested person. To help with this, you may want to phrase a question to which the point in your essay could be the answer. Then, either ask your friend to explain back to you what you said, or play the recording and use this as the basis for beginning to write. Begin by writing down the explanation as you said it, and then look at how you would want to improve on this explanation. This may be through the addition of detail or by formalising the language. Once you have attempted a draft of all of your main points you can work on putting these points together into a coherent whole and adding an introduction and conclusion.

PRIORITY ACTION 4: put together a first draft from your series of points

At this stage you should have all of your main points drafted. There will be time to improve the expression of your ideas in the next drafting stage. For now, your aim is to put the ideas into an order according to your essay plan. To make it easier to experiment with the order of your points, either have each point on a separate piece of paper, or cut the paper up so each point is separate. Refer back to your essay plan to select an order for your points. Once you have chosen the order, draft the introduction or conclusion (either can be drafted first). Like the rest of the draft, these elements can be improved later, so if you find that writing them doesn't come easily, try writing them as a series of answers to the question suggested in the examples given above. Once you have a complete first draft you can begin to improve expression by reviewing at a series of levels.

PRIORITY ACTION 5: use a range of reviewing techniques to improve the first draft

Reviewing is a time consuming but essential part of essay writing. You will not be able to improve everything in one step. Instead, review your work at a number of different levels.

Begin by reviewing the structure of the content. Summarise each paragraph with keywords in the margin to identify the main point of each paragraph. Use these keywords to get an overview of the content. Are there any differences in structure from your essay plan? Are the differences improvements or should you return to your original plan? Imagine that you are explaining these points verbally to another person. Would the chosen order of your material make sense?

Once you have decided on the structure of the content you need to be sure that this structure is clearly communicated through your paragraph structure. Does each paragraph have one clear point that can be explained within that paragraph or do you need to break the point down into a series of shorter stages, each with its own paragraph? Are there any noticeably short paragraphs (perhaps just one sentence long)? Could the short paragraph be added as an additional point in another paragraph? Look for a clear structure to your paragraphs and restructure if necessary.

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