Writer’s block? Try these tips!


fullsizerenderBy Jeana Schafer, junior writing coach

Creative writing is a very specific business. Depending on your mood, you may find that your scenes have floated off track or maybe you’ll find that you just can’t write a scene at all. When met with this struggle, it can often be difficult to write. It is especially frustrating when you are in the middle of writing a chapter, but your mood suddenly changes. Writing something cohesive can feel beyond challenging, especially when you’re not in the mood for it. 

Luckily, I have a few tips and tricks to help you overcome writer’s block.

For starters, try listening to music. There are an exceptional amount of playlists available for any mood you wish to put yourself in. Even if you are the type of person who can’t write while multitaskingincluding listening to musicthen try closing your eyes and absorbing that rage, joy, or utter despair blasting through your headphones. It will stick with you long enough to get the words flowing how you want.

Sometimes writer’s block is so severe that such a simple fix doesn’t quite do the trick. If you are writing a longer piece, try going back and rereading the previous chapters. If nothing else, this can give you a chance to make some minor edits and reflect on your previous writing. (Note: Do NOT make major edits when you are already having a hard time writing! At least save the original copy in case you have regrets later.) By the time you finish rereading that portion, the creative juices should start flowing again.

Neither worked? It’s time to…

Give up.

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No! Don’t give up entirely, of course! Trying to write something in the wrong mindset is like trying to eat your favorite meal when you are already stuffed: it doesn’t work. Step away from that story or scene for a moment and do something else. This could mean drop your pencil and walk away from writing for a few minutes or, as I’ve learned works even better, flip to a new page and let yourself write whatever your brain wants. It doesn’t have to make sense or have anything to do with what you were hoping to write. Just let the creativity stream out naturally.

Now, if your writing sounds like complete gibberish after a while, your brain is obviously checked out for the day, so you should call it quits and take a nap.

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However, if your writing has some semblance of coherency, these tips are working exactly as they should. Hopefully you get to the point where you can’t stop writing or can happily return to your initial project and write that with renewed ease.

Remember, you can always delete or cross out anything you don’t like later. Writing is a process; don’t feel discouraged if it doesn’t always go as planned. Just write SOMETHING! Good luck!

Sometimes these days I’m asked, “How did you start singing and writing songs?”

by Judith Thomas, MHS English teacher

Here’s my long story short: Imagine that your life is a house and it’s full of rooms labelled “school responsibilities,” “master’s degree,” “family” or perhaps other interests, like “writing” or “painting” or “music”. Sometimes for reasons silly or serious, you kind of close off that room and maybe even lock the door.

A few years ago I started to feel an unexplainable urge to go back up to that room marked “music” and open the door a little. I accepted an invitation to sing with one of my students at our MHS Coffee House. Then an offer to sit in at another student’s gig. That old door swung a little wider, and I couldn’t shake the longing to go back in and dust some things off. Buy a guitar. Teach myself. At the same time this was happening, Singer-songwriter Keri Noble started offering voice lessons. Not too far into my lessons, she challenged me to write my own songs. Tell my own stories. I pushed back with a firm “No way. There are plenty of great songs out there to cover—the world does not need more bad songs!”

She pushed back. “Why do you assume they will be bad?”

Light started to stream in through the windows of that little room. As an “overachiever student”, of course I accepted the songwriting challenge. Now, a little over two years and twelve gigs later, I’ve written twelve songs. Lucky number thirteen is underway, and the first EP is in the planning stages. With support from a great coach and a loving husband, I’ve completely renovated that room—it’s safe to say it’s now flooded with light, love, and energy.

On May 3, I will perform my 6th (hopefully) sold out show at the 318 Music Café in Excelsior. Here’s the thing: Never think it’s too late to pursue what you love. As my voice coach said, “Let your ‘yes’ be louder than your ‘no’” when faced with new challenges that scare you. I’m living in that “yes” now and it’s made me a better musician, a better teacher, and, I hope, a better person.

Sometimes these days I’m asked “What’s your process for songwriting?”

Here’s my even shorter story: I am a baby in the field of songwriting. I tend to think in metaphors. I love rhythm. Most of the time I just wait for an idea to show up. Then search around for a chord progression and a vibe that suits those words. A couple times a song poured out completely written. One time I dreamed a song—that was fun and also pretty weird. I’m just grateful if a song arrives at all, however that may be.

Oh, and that room? Well, let’s just say I took the door off the hinges. For good.

Don’t Read This, Just Study

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by Bella Hueffmeier, junior writing coach

Well hello everyone!! I come to you with heavy bags under my sleep deprived eyes and a search history consisting of “Final Grade Calculator” and not much else. Whether this is your very first finals week or you’re an seasoned veteran, this week tends to bring out the worst in most people – admittedly, I am one of them. This being said, I am exhausted. I am stressed and overwhelmed and busy and quite honestly I just simply don’t have time to write a blog post right now. There probably aren’t many people reading this because everyone else is stressed and studying too!! So, faithful readers and newcomers alike, take care of yourself this week. Drink some water, eat your veggies, and please PLEASE stop trying to calculate your grades (RogerHub does not need your business!). With that, I bid you adieu as I try to figure out how to prepare for three in-class essays in two hours…

No (Research) Road Is Long With Good Company

By Mei Gong, senior writing coach

At the start of the year, there are always a lot of new journey vibes floating in the frosty air. Jai wrote an inspiring post last week about new resolutions in the new year, so I thought I’d make my fresh 2019 blog post an ode to the journey thematics of January. And, since this is the Writing Center blog, I think I’ll write a little bit about the new journey our new writing coaches will embark on together in 2019: the MTKA WCS Inquiry Project.

For those unfamiliar with the project or just looking for a refresher, the judiciously named Inquiry Project is the nearly semester long research project of our MHS Writing Center Seminar class in which new coaches pose a question (inquiry) then investigate and report (project!). Included in this inquiry unit awaits a research paper (packing an introduction, literature review, action research report, results, and conclusion), as well as other new experiences like a field trip and poster board presentation session.

For my project, my partner, Kaya, and I asked the question “Should students be allowed to choose their own coach?” and investigated the follow up questions of “What factors might influence a writer’s choice of tutor?” and “How might this impact the quality of the conference?”

Left to right: University of Minnesota Writing Center Director, Kirsten Jamsen, my research partner Kaya Gendreau, and little ol’ sophomore me!

Sophomore year, I wrote a lot of papers and gave a bunch of presentations, but I’m probably proudest of my Inquiry Project. It was my first time taking on the new format of the Academic Research Paper™, and while the whole concept was a little intimidating in the beginning, I’m so glad that my first big research paper was in a class with plenty of writing feedback and loads of research process hand-holding. With the relaxed pace, wide open parameters, and superb writing support, the Inquiry Project not only helped me dip my toes in the world of academic research, but also helped me understand how gratifying it is to study topics which genuinely interest me.

The Inquiry Project also gave me some of my favorite writing center memories. The field trip to the University of Minnesota Writing Center to conference with university writing consultants on our research papers was a blast, and remembering our year’s impromptu poster assembly party in the Writing Center (late) the night before our poster session always makes me smile.

Was it a killer project? Definitely! Was it visually engaging? For sure! Did it take 3 hours to assemble? Maybe! (I left after the first hour of goofy, artisan, hand-cut letter craft…)

Hopefully, by now I’ve stoked some excitement in our new coaches for the upcoming adventure, or sent WCS alumni down a pleasantly nostalgic path. Either way, to old questioners and new inquirers alike, on academic or overarching journeys in 2019, may you poke what makes you curious, make sure to make some memories, and have a blast with it!

Happy (belated) 2019, everyone!

Regrets and Resolutions: Leaping Into A New Year of Learning

Jai Chadha, junior writing coach

Woah! Can you believe it?

Winter break…

is over?

And we’re…

back to school for the winter?

As that special time of year—for me, devoted to cozying up indoors, making cookies, sleeping, and watching movies—comes to an end, I am swept up in a time of reminiscing. As we come to the end of 2018, my head is (perhaps like yours!) swimming with so many ideas about what I accomplished, how I grew, and my favorite memories.

Unfortunately, along with these fond reflections, sometimes it’s hard not to get bogged down by those dreaded end-of-year regrets:

“I should have…” “I could have…” “I would have…”

And it’s so easy to dwell on all the things we should/could/would have done in 2018.

But thinking about ways to counter these unhealthy thinking habits, I think that maybe the best way we can overcome such regrets really is to set positive (yet realistic!) goals for the future.

This idea of learning from the past to make a better future is what drives the ever-(in)famous “New Year’s Resolutions” that everyone talks about at the beginning of each new year. But, as cheesy as they may seem, I feel like remembering the past and applying lessons learned to the future is what truly helps us accomplish our resolutions and succeed in life. I am a firm believer that mistakes are inevitable, and important for future success—it’s wallowing in these mistakes or making the same mistakes again that is more frustrating.

So as the new year approaches, I encourage you to actually make those New Year’s Resolutions, reflect on 2018, and make improvements for 2019. I hope you live your life to the fullest in 2019 and I hope you get as much enjoyment from these wholesome and humorous messages as I do…