Four Self-Imposed Writing Rules to Combat Writer’s Block

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past fifteen years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

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Anne Tyler QuoteHave you ever wanted to get your ideas down and develop them but felt like you couldn’t?

This is my weekly challenge: figuring out the time and space to write. For me, it isn’t about coming up with an idea that is worthy of exploring. It is about the discipline of settling in and settling down, committing to the exploration. This can be even more anxiety-ridden when you have a looming deadline for a manuscript.

So I created a self-imposed challenge: to draft an entire chapter in 36 hours being absolutely loyal to four self-imposed writing rules:

  1. When I am anxious about the deadline, the amount of pages still left to draft, the way it comes out on the page the first time, just BREATHE. It will get done, it will become better, just breathe and focus on the idea in the moment.
  2. Take advantage of the quiet, the freedom to focus on the task at hand. Whether it is early morning, late evening, or in this case being sequestered in a hotel room for a weekend, the quiet noises of the environment support the process. The gentle hum of the refrigerator, the birds outside of the window, the breeze on the deck. (Clearly I am a morning person.)
  3. Don’t rush. A different take on No. 1, but rushing creates anxiety. Take time to do a close read of texts to think deeply about how to synthesize, alternate perspectives that potentially shift your point of view. Take time to luxuriate with language. Sometimes the idea is trapped by the words and it is helpful to perseverate over a word or a phrase. (One of my favorite writing tools is visuwords.com — Heidi Hayes Jacobs introduced me to it and I am totally hooked on this for synonyms and to help clarify meaning).
  4. No surfing the web. No social media. No news updates. No shopping. Focus on searching for information, not wandering aimlessly.

When the 36 hours were over, I had a 17-page chapter and an appreciation that my writing rules don’t need to be whipped out only for special occasions — they can be used for any writing experience.

What are your self-imposed writing rules? Would love to hear about them!

And I will share a few months from now about the details for this book coming out in 2017, co-authored with my friends and compatriots Marie Alcock and Michael Fisher on Questing: a pedagogy.

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