The Mischievous Winking Elf

Few things at university can make you feel more dejected than attempting to start an essay, but then actually just spending the next hour being slowly hypnotised by the flashing black ‘I‘ on the blank white screen. Like a little mischievous winking elf, mocking you for having nothing to say, the longer you stare at him the more aggravating he becomes.

Of course, it’s not that you don’t have anything to say, it’s that you don’t have the right way to express it yet. You haven’t figured out how best to squish your ideas through the pin-prick holes that we call language, and turn the wink into words. Of all the advice I received on how to deal with writers’ block, and triumph over that winking Rumpelstiltskin, the most useful was this: give each paragraph its own word document. Although this might seem like a bit of a rigmarole, I have found it works for these main reasons…

1. Clarity of argument.

Every paragraph should have an introduction, point, example, discussion and conclusion. Sometimes each of these is only one sentence long, but nevertheless this structure is crucial in making each paragraph water-tight to its own argument. Giving each paragraph its own word document gives it the space to be its own little essay-baby, and stops it from dribbling into the next one; getting too muddled with the next or previous point.

2. Sprinkling your writing experience with the satisfying crunch of small victories.

Writing an eloquent essay and doing your ideas justice is so much about not psyching yourself out, staying motivated, and keeping up momentum. When an entire essay is on one word document, it’s easy to feel that you haven’t achieved anything until the entire ordeal is done with. Whereas with this method, the end of each paragraph is a completed word document in and of itself, and a little finish line in its own right.

3. The mischievous winking elf gains his power from your pressure.

He is so much less ominous giggling on the corner of a lone paragraph, as opposed to an entire essay. He is so much less stubborn, less ridiculing, easier to ignore. Plus, doing different points on different documents means that you don’t have to write them in order; start with whichever ones flow most easily.   It is vital of course to allow yourself a day or two to combine these documents, and to link all the baby essays into one long monkey chain. This mostly just involves a slight alteration in the first sentence or two of a paragraph, to elude to the previous one, and make sure there is a tangible thread to weave into your conclusion. I found with this method that the conclusions I made from my analysis were more original; ordering the points later freed up intellectual space for more creative connections, and therefore a more captivating essay. Liz-Emily Moen