Writer’s Block

With Spring comes the need to think about term projects, many of which require writing.  Yet Spring is also a time of temptation:  blue skies, baseball, warmer weather, and area festivals filled with deep-fried concoctions just waiting to stop your heart.  Spring can be a pressure cooker, and one of its symptoms is Writer’s Block.

Writer’s Block has nothing to do with one’s experience or abilities; it comes to everyone, like the common cold.  Feeling the pressure is one cause.  Others are thinking about too many things at once, a general inability to focus, or insufficient research.  Rather than examining the causes of the problem, though, let’s look at some solutions.

Everyone knows the common cures such as talking it through, taking a walk, or engaging in some other distracting activity for a short time.  Here are some not-so-common ideas that may help:

  • If you are feeling the pressure, sit down and type a rant.  Include all the things that are bugging you.  Use bad language.  This technique not only removes all the clutter from your brain, it allows you to view it in black and white thereby diminishing its hold over you.
  • Zone out. Take five minutes to sit perfectly still.  Close your eyes and focus on your breathing.  Do nothing else.  Five minutes is actually a lot longer than you think and can help stop Brain Frenzy in its tracks.
  • Get messy. It pains me to say this, but forget about spelling, grammar, organizational structure or staying inside the lines.  Let yourself go.  Once you get something down on paper you can go back and fix it.
  • Switch implements. Write with a tool different from what you usually use.  Use a pen and paper if you normally use a computer.  Text yourself bits and pieces that you can pull together later.  Find an empty classroom and use the white board.  Shifting your physical routine will throw you off balance just enough to get your brainwaves flowing.

Don’t let writer’s block get the better of you.  Find ways to tame it that work for you, so that you don’t have to worry about it anymore.  Just knowing you have techniques in your arsenal can help.

Semicolons–the Deeply Misunderstood Punctuation Mark

Semicolons–the Deeply Misunderstood Punctuation Mark

Possibly one of the most common punctuation problems involves the poor semicolon.  Neither a full colon nor a fancy comma, this little character consistently baffles its users.  So what are we supposed to do with it?  And more importantly, what should we NOT do with it?

According to experts, the semicolon serves two purposes.  The first is to connect two sentences with closely related topics:

Wombats are marsupials.  They are native to Australia.

Wombats are marsupials; they are native to Australia.

If you decide to join the two sentences using a conjunction, you need to remove the semicolon and insert a comma instead:

Wombats are marsupials, and they are native to Australia.

You should never try to join two sentences on unrelated topics using a semicolon (or anything else, for that matter).

WRONG  —  Wombats are marsupials; salt-water crocodiles are native to Australia.

More confusing are situations where you use semicolons to separate items in a list.  This is only correct when the items themselves are complicated enough to warrant commas and, therefore, likely to confuse the reader.

Winners of the dog show included a cocker spaniel with black, white, and tan markings; a miniature dachshund with a long coat in black, tan, and merle colors; and a greyhound who was mostly white, but had brindled spots in tan, grey, and beige.

Never us semicolons to separate short, uncomplicated lists.

WRONG — Each of the dogs was black; white; and tan.

For more help with semicolons, and other writerly issues, check out Purdue’s Online Writing Lab:  https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/  They also have helpful videos on their You Tube channel https://www.youtube.com/user/OWLPurdue