(adapted from my book THe Basics of Essay Writing)
Writing is a strange activity. If you have an essay to write it is amazing how easy it is to find other things to do. Writers’ block – a total inability to write anything at all – is very rare. But the urge to do something other than write whenever you have writing to do is extremely common. Give someone an essay to write, and suddenly they will remember a list of urgent chores they have to perform before they get started on it. They might ‘need’ to eat or drink, tidy their desk, or go to the library, go shopping, do the washing up, or surf the Internet for suitable materials. As I’m writing this, I’m feeling a very strong desire to have a nap or at least to go and get myself a coffee to give myself more energy. But I know that this is largely my mind’s bid to get me to do something else – almost anything else – than write. Luckily I’ve made it to my word processor, and the words have started to come. But if I’d fallen asleep I would have taken a lot longer to get started.
Professional writers are well aware of their own avoidance strategies, and of those urges to do something, anything, other than write. But these urges aren’t always excuses. Perhaps you do genuinely need to do some of these other things. For instance, to write well I know that I need energy. If I just took that nap now, perhaps I’d write much better. There is a whole series of books that tell business people they need to take a ‘power nap’, the short sleep in the middle of the day that refreshes you and allows you to return to your work with a new vigour. It may be true that you need to do more research before you write that final version of your essay. However, the skill you need to acquire is the skill of beginning: the skill of getting to your desk, or wherever you work, and making a start. What I mean by this is that you should make sure that you at least begin to plan and write your essay. You should get in front of your computer screen or blank page of paper and make the first moves even if you feel that there are many other things you also suddenly need to do. Once you’ve started the process, writing usually gets much easier and you may find your tiredness evaporating and your urge to do all those other things diminishing…
For more advice about writing essays, see my book THe Basics of Essay Writing.