Deconstructing the Stress Behind Writer’s Block During an Essay/Personal Narrative Writing Assessment

Question: When writing a timed essay/narrative, how do you stay calm under pressure and come up with ideas quickly without taking up too much time to plan? Also how do you deal with writers block? Lastly, what happens if you aren’t able to finish writing the piece in time?

Hey! Thank you for your question. I understand how difficult it is to stay calm under pressure but the best thing you could possibly do is take 30 seconds to just breathe, once you’re able to control your breath you can better focus on the task at hand.

Furthermore, you have asked about how to come up with ideas on the spot, personally I would offer that you should seek out inspiration the night before a personal narrative- read some blogs or watch some innovative ted talks- soak in ideas and find something that interests you that is open-ended and you can play with. If this still doesn’t work for you, think about the prompt in relevance to your life and how can you now write from your own experience?

In terms of a critical essay, my best advice is to really understand your plot and the evolution of the protagonists in your novel to be able to write about them. Look at some exam prompts and jot some notes down about each as to how you would answer them in relation to your selected novel. The more do this, the more you are better able to understand your novel and apply your knowledge to questions of matter. Basically, what I am trying to get at is with writing an essay or a narrative it should not be an “on the spot affair” if you actually put work into preparing and understanding your novel, you will easily be able to manipulate any prompt to work in your favour.

However, if you are still extremely stumped in the moment, think about what you’ve already written in class and try to see if there is a way to use that prompt to answer the question you are currently given. For an example, let’s say your current prompt is: “How does an individual deal with adversity?” and maybe you’ve already written an essay in class on the prompt, “How does one’s ambition impact an individual?” A good exam tip is to connect them both if you’re prepared as a writer to do so. So perhaps if I was writing about Macbeth I could talk about how his ambition blinded him from reacting rationally towards adversity. This is definitely a stretch and I’d only really offer this to you if you’re prepared to attempt something new and challenging. If you are not, that is also okay, start by jotting down notes about the prompt and then find points that interconnect with the plot/characters of the novel you have studied. Once you get your pen on the page you will be good to go, the more you sit pondering, the more time you waste.

Okay so moving on to writer’s block, honestly the best way to move past it is to seek out inspiration. Don’t wait till you are in the exam room to move past it. Like I said earlier read some blogs, listen to some spoken word poetry, watch some Ted Talks- allow yourself to delve into some thought-provoking art and reflect upon it. It’s not enough to just read a few blogs or watch a few videos, put effort into journaling and responding to what you’re experiencing. Once you do that, I assure you the writer’s block will disappear on its own. But also, relate all of this back to you, ask yourself: how and why does this affect me? When you begin to ask questions, you’re already stimulating thought.

Lastly, if you don’t finish your essay or narrative on time it will still be taken in and will be graded. Whatever you’ve written including your planning will be taken into consideration. You will not get a zero for not finishing, the quality of work you produce is what you’ll be graded on. That being said, it is important for you to strive to meet the exam expectations- it only makes you a better writer and critical thinker.

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask them or come and talk to me if you see me around in the hallways. I’d be happy to offer any help or support that I can.