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How to Write When Muse Doesn’t Help

There you are. Slamming your brain repeatedly against the keyboard at 1:53am while your loudest “make ideas happen” music blares from your headphones. Intermittently, you are uploading pictures of your cat to Instagram while cursing the professor who assigned this stupid essay. You are considering selling your soul to the Devil in lieu of a working thesis statement.

Don’t make any blood oaths just yet. Even when your brain just doesn’t seem to be making any connections, there are ways to get your ideas flowing and that essay started. With a little creative help and a lot of determination, even the most uninspired essay can turn into a gem.

1. Go Where the People Are

In a recent study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, researchers found that ambient noise at around 70 decibels actually improves creative thought. They found that extreme quiet, 50 decibels or lower, impedes the ability to think abstractly since it introduces too much focus into the equation.

On the other hand, make sure you don’t go where there is too much noise. The study also showed that noises over 85 decibels, the sound of heavy traffic, is too distracting for creative thinking. So, make sure you go to a coffee shop, not a metal concert.

2. Create an Outline

Remember in high school when your teacher forced you to make an outline? It might have seemed like a huge waste of time then, but it’s a great trick to get your essay on the page. In fact, with a good enough outline, half of your paper will already be written for you.

In fact, there is a simple 7-step procedure to have an excellent outline that will always get you off to a good essay start.

  1. Answer the prompt. In one or two sentences, answer the prompt for the article. This is your thesis statement. It will go at the end of your first paragraph.
  2. Write a main sentence for each of your paragraphs. Each paragraph should help to explain what you stated in your thesis. For each paragraph, write one sentence about what that paragraph is going to say.
  3. List 2-3 resources for each paragraph. Look at the main sentence for each paragraph. Now, find some resources that prove what you said in that sentence. List them.

Now that you have all your paragraphs and thesis statement outlined, you will have some great ideas on how to start writing your essay. By the time you’re finished writing the body, or “meat,” of your essay, you should have some good ideas on how to write the introduction and conclusion.

3. Set a Timer

One of the best ways to get writing when your brain feels like mush is to do a timed writing. Simply set your timer for 5-10 minutes and sit down at your computer. Start writing whatever comes into your head.

If you’re working on an essay, write down all the things you know about the subject, or how you feel about it. Whatever you do, don’t stop writing. When you run out of things to say, simply write, “I don’t know what to say.” Your brain will eventually fill that space with things that can help you connect your ideas with the essay you need to complete.

4. Do Some Research

I don’t mean search “funny cat videos” for two hours. I mean, real research. For example, if your essay needs to be about a current event, go to an online news source and start looking at headlines. Anything that catches your attention is a great place to begin your research.

Especially if you’re low on time, research is another area where it’s a good idea to time yourself. Set the clock for one hour and look for concrete evidence to support your ideas. Educational websites (.edu) and governmental websites (.gov) are the most authoritative, so their excellent places to start. Also, make sure that you are citing your source so that you don’t get in trouble for plagiarism.

5. Just Write It

In the end, writing an essay is simply about sitting down and doing it. Many authors, essayists, and professional writers don’t wait for inspiration before they put pen to paper. As a student, you can’t wait until inspiration strikes to start your essay. Simply setting aside a time to write and then making it happen is the best way to avoid losing your soul to a college essay assignment.