Let’s face it – we’ve all been in a dark place called The Writing Slump. Writer’s Block is a phenomenon that happens to every writer at some point. When words start to escape you and ideas get stale, you need a reliable emergency kit for working through blockages and staying productive.

I plummet into the writing abyss of Writer’s Block when my mind is bogged down with a million different things, when I accidentally lose all hope in the piece I’m drafting or when the caffeine from my latte starts to wear off. To be honest, there are a million triggers that can send me straight to the writing slump but as a professional writer with constant deadlines looming, not writing is not an option!

How can you write yourself out of linguistic stagnation when taking a day or even a couple of hours off might not be an option?

Take a few deep breaths. If you find yourself torturing your pen or smashing your keyboard, close your eyes, let annoyance and frustration dissipate, and take a few deep breaths. Accept the situation with a serene mind and focus on getting back on the writing track. There’s nothing worse than savouring the emotions you might be feeling in times of a writing paralysis; rather, choose to tackle the blockage with concrete .

Fight the temptation to quit, because you won’t always have the luxury of taking long breaks or waiting for inspiration to kick in. The reality of writing – especially if you get paid to do it – is that you don’t have all the time in the world to polish off every sentence. Learning to combat writer’s block is key to becoming a successful professional writer.

Seek inspiration in the work of others. Is there a writer you find exceptionally talented or eloquent? Or a magazine you like skimming? Turn your attention to the content and style of fellow writers for fresh ideas, new phrases, and a spark.

Get caught up in technicalities. When your creative juices ebb, shift your focus to formatting, laying out your pages, assembling appendices. Writing is a multi-step endeavour that involves editing, fact-checking, revisions, approvals, research, and much more. Just because your word count isn’t growing, you can still be moving forward with your writing project.

Freewrite for two minutes. Zoom out your computer screen or open a new page in your notebook and write. Jot down everything that comes to mind on your topic. Even if you’re repeating yourself or words don’t go well together, refrain from judgement until the time is up. This well-known writing exercise can help ideas and sentences coalesce into a unique creation.

Tell a friend what you want to write – but currently can’t. Alternating between different modes of expression can help reset your brain. If your friend really listens, maybe they’ll even offer feedback. If no friend is available in the moment of a writing crisis, give your imaginary audience an elevator pitch about your topic.

Go back to the basics. Why are your drafting this piece? What’s the message you’re attempting to convey? Oftentimes, we get bogged down in perfect grammar, elegant style, active verbs, and paragraph transitions that we forget what we’re trying to say. In desperate times of a writing slump, be ready to sacrifice your eloquence (and polish it off when you ).

No matter how dissatisfying or dark your writing abyss looks like, it’s just another setback you need to power through. There is, probably, no single magic recipe for breaking out of a writing slump – so make your own soup.


Screenshot_20181023-160649Olga Ivanova is an Edmonton-based communications professional and writer with a knack for storytelling.

Some of you might have heard of analytical writing in academia. If your major was anywhere near the humanities or social sciences, chances are that writing analytically was instilled in you through countless edits and thorough comments from your instructors. Maybe you even took a writing class. However, when the memories of your alma mater start to fade, so do the analytical skills you thought were instilled in you.

If there is one valuable writing tip I picked up in school, it’s that your mind has the unique capacity to interpret facts, merge ideas, and uncover patterns that can make your voice– channeled through writing – authentic. Whether you dabble in fiction writing, work in communications, or wordsmith for pleasure, an analytical text will help you and your reader get more meaning out of words, nurturing a better understanding of the reality around us.

Writing analytically involves peering at the world and asking questions. It’s about connecting the dots, capturing diversity, and challenging biases. The highly-coveted skill of making sense of information and facts will always rank above other communication skills. As we’re getting bombarded with terabytes of data, our brains need to interpret it before sending calls to action. An analytical piece takes you on a journey towards deeper understanding of a topic that goes beyond mere facts.

Analytical writing is a symphony. Let your writing be a platform where ideas collide and coalesce. Collect data, voices, and opinions to fill in the gaps and capture a full picture. Don’t slip into judgement as your learn about new traditions, people, and cultures.

Analytical writing is revealing. Look for the intricate, minute details, compare facts, dates, and numbers to uncover implicit connections. Oftentimes, single numbers and dates don’t say much to the reader. But they might speak volumes when compared or contrasted with a larger corpus of data.

An analytical text asks questions. Why is the topic you’re developing important? How does it fit into the bigger picture? How does it impact our lives? Why should the reader care?

Analytical writing is critical. Challenge your thought to shy away from biases and assumptions. Keep your heart, mind, and writing open.

Analytical writing is a muscle that you can flex and stretch. Follow these tips before your tackle a new writing project:

  • Think of the sources you’re interviewing or researching – do they offer diversity? Are they reliable? How far from your set of beliefs are they placed?
  • Wrap your factual information in a context. Bare facts alone might not always make the most sense to the reader. Gather context, compare and contrast your numbers and dates to offer possible interpretations.
  • Tame your judgement as much as you can for as long as you can. Walk the reader through your thought process before making any conclusions. Remaining completely subjective might not be realistic; equally covering diverse opinions and approaches before stating your opinion is.

Your unique way of making sense of facts, information, ideas – topped off with a firm grasp of the English language – makes your writing stand out. And this will never go out of style because a riveting story and quality writing will always be in demand, no matter what audience you’re serving.


Screenshot_20181023-160649Olga Ivanova is an Edmonton-based communications professional and writer with a knack for storytelling.

We are constantly engaged with technology, and, sometimes, it can be difficult to justify buying or bringing a notebook when we know that we can just type our work on our laptop, phone, or tablet. Technology affords us many great luxuries, but especially in the initial, frenzied, creative stages of writing, it can be best to go back to basics and pull out a pen and paper. The artistic freedom that a blank page affords can be liberating. While I may find myself frozen and frustrated before a computer screen, there is a special joy that accompanies writing with pen and paper. Below, I have compiled a list of my favourite reasons for going back to basics when I write.

writingwednesdays

Automatic illustrations. Drawing, doodling, scribbling: whatever you call it, being able to add artwork instantly to whatever piece of writing you are working on can help to keep your creative juices flowing. Doodling can help you come up with new ideas, see things in different ways, and can even alleviate anxiety. For readers, illustrations (no matter how crude) can catch the eye, add to the tone, increase dimensionality, and make the piece feel more personal. Difficult to accomplish on the computer, but so automatic with a pen in hand, doodling has some major upsides for creative minds of all varieties.

Change the shape of words. Sometimes words need to be big, or zigzagged, or adorned with curlicues. They may need to be in seven different colours, or dripping with slime, or be spread out all over the page. Maybe you want to insert a word that requires a different alphabet, like Arabic or Ukrainian, right in the middle of your English poem. Something that can be difficult and frustrating to accomplish on the computer can become a fun and invigorating project on paper. Easily being able to make your words look how you want helps to maintain the flow of creativity and can lead to greater satisfaction at the end of your work period.

Spell however you want! Trying to write a short story from the perspective of a child? Are you looking to stretch out or compress words in the song you’re writing? Have you coined a new term? Are you perpetually distracted by your spelling mistakes when all you want is to quickly get an idea down? It can be infuriating to have to go back again and again to change what autocorrect has “fixed” for you, or try to continue on bravely writing amongst the many red underlined words in your document. Writing on paper will never pose this problem.

Format the words on the page easily and quickly. Whether you want words in all four corners of the page but nowhere in between, or spaced out like bricks, or placed in the shape of a dress, writing on paper will always allow you this luxury with the least amount of fuss.

Piece together pieces of different drafts. Have you ever found yourself writing draft after draft of the same idea, sentence, or poem? Well, there’s no easy backspace or delete function when you’re working with paper, and, if you’re like me, even if something was crossed out in a crazed bout of frustration, I can usually still read it. After I have written all my drafts, I can take all the pieces of my brainstorming, take the best from each, and weave them together. On a computer, my ideas are so easily deleted; on paper, they remain traceable.


rachaelRachael Heffernan has recently completed a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies at the University of Alberta. In the course of her academic career, she has received the Harrison Prize in Religion and The Queen Elizabeth II Graduate Scholarship. During her undergraduate degree, Rachael was published twice in The Codex: Bishop University’s Journal of Philosophy, Religion, Classics, and Liberal Arts for her work on Hittite divination and magic and philosophy of religion. Rachael has also had the opportunity to participate in an archaeological dig in Israel, and has spoken at a conference on Secularism at the University of Alberta on the Christian nature of contemporary Western healthcare. Her wide-ranging interests in scholarship are complemented by her eclectic extra-curricular interests: she is a personal safety instructor and lifelong martial artist who has been recognized for her leadership with a Nepean Community Sports Hero Award. She is an enthusiastic reader, writer, and learner of all things, a tireless athlete, and a passionate teacher.

You may have noticed by now, but the women of The Drawing Board have accumulated considerable professional and academic successes in the form of accomplishments and awards. And we shamelessly celebrate these events every time they arise. While there is a lot to be said about online issues of contributing to another’s depression or low self-esteem when we celebrate our own successes, it is important to realize that publicizing these facts goes beyond mere celebration: they are acts of political defiance and feminist resistance.

Every time I have been inclined to share a success, I have been hesitant for a variety of reasons. In Islam, we are encouraged to thank God first (which I do, alhamdulilah) and to avoid showing off in front of others. Additionally, Muslims are taught about the dangers of the evil eye – or jealousy that comes from unexpected sources. The other reason I hesitate is my personality. For anyone who knows me personally, they know that self-confidence has only come with a lot of work in the realm of self-development and, even then, only recently. When you don’t think highly of yourself, and don’t want to think highly of yourself (as an ascetic practice) it is difficult to see the benefit of announcing your accolades publicly.

But there are a few reasons to do it.

Firstly, as Rachael has reminded me, people who are successful are often entangled in numerous projects and initiatives – so much so that they can forget to take the time to recognize what they have done. For people who are particularly focused on the betterment of their community and other altruistic work, it can be tragic to fail to realize how far you have come and the difference you have made.

For activists and academics in particular, this is especially important. Our communities (along with artists) tend to suffer from mental illnesses disproportionately. Additionally, activists can be focused on how much more work we have to do, and will push to make change tirelessly, not taking a breath in the meantime. The constant focus on the negative (on what is left to be done) can cast shadows over the light-filled ventures that activist projects can be for the communities they serve. And it can take away from the actual change initiated, making our work feel more like a performance than anything else. A moment of celebration or recognition can be the antidote to negativity before we put our nose to the grindstone again.

For academics, the focus on “what is left to do” is also ever-present, perhaps more so. In academia, you are constantly reminded of the greats who came before you, and how what you do will “never be enough.” Yesterday’s doctoral degree is today’s post-doc. A colleague of mine recently passed his candidacy and is now ABD (All But Dissertation) for his PhD program and when he made this monumental announcement via social media, he received some comments like “Don’t get too comfortable” or “Now the real work begins” when I personally think the only thing in order was a solid congratulations (which also came in droves). I can’t say how he felt nor what the others meant by those comments (he doesn’t even know I am writing this or thought about it), but I couldn’t help but feel like the reminders that others have “been there and done that” diminished the countless, likely sleepless, hours he had spent to get to that point. But that’s just me.

The second reason that it’s important to celebrate accomplishments comes to me from Liz. When I was really worried about posting that I had received the SSHRC for the coming academic year and to support my thesis research, Liz reminded me that, especially for women, the celebration of our recognition is its own form of social activism and feminist resistance. For me, celebration gives time and space to countless hours of work and tireless efforts. It means that long nights and juggled commitments have not been in vain. That slogging towards a better future can not only be recognized in the here and now, but ought to be. It is injecting a “good news” story into the prevailing narratives of oppressive patriarchy and can inspire others to pursue their dreams, whatever their inhibitions about them.

Nakita Valerio is an academic, activist and writer in the community. She is currently pursuing graduate studies in History and Islamic-Jewish Studies at the University of Alberta.  Nakita was named one of the Alberta Council for Global Cooperation’s Top 30 under 30 for 2015, and is the recipient of the 2016 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, as well as the Walter H. Johns Graduate Studies Fellowship. She has also been honoured with the State of Kuwait, the Queen Elizabeth II and the Frank W Peers Awards for Graduate Studies in 2015. She has been recognized by Rotary International with an Award for Excellence in Service to Humanity and has been named one of Edmonton’s “Difference Makers” for 2015 by the Edmonton Journal. Nakita is the co-founder of Bassma Primary School in El Attaouia, Morocco and the Director of Public Policy with the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council.