About Z. Sanders

I love to inspire and encourage, and I believe in counting the blessings (one will always be able to find SOMETHING to be down about, if one tries hard enough). A wife, mathematics educator, and mathematics education researcher, I love to learn and love to teach. I'm a tech-o-phile and avid reader, and I love to design and create systems to support creative work. I love trying new recipes almost as much as I love the Spanish language. A complete music aficionado, sometimes I'm a guitar student. I am trying to live with a faith God can SEE (not just one HE can hear). (I first heard this sentiment from Joel Osteen.) I am CONVINCED that kettle belling, line dancing, jogging, free weight lifting, exercise biking, and Barry's Bootcamp are THE combo! (Try it!). Those are important, because, well, if it's seafood or Mexican food, I'm in! Thanks for stopping by! Godspeed with your endeavors, and may you experience joy today. -- "Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it." -- Bill Cosby

[Photo Spread] Book Annotating That’s Better over the Long Haul; Overcoming Distraction


I hope this post finds you well!

Below I share a photo spread. If you click on a picture, it will display the large photo viewer where you can see more details.

About the photos: The book annotation techniques on display in the photos have saved me SO MUCH time and helped me get the most out of my books and my reading. The photos depict how I take notes in books such that not only are the notes useful soon after they are taken (while still in the memory a bit), but they are useful months and years later.

The annotations are made and placed in such a way that I might not even have to open the book to know if it contains annotations leading to content that I need. And if I do determine to open the book, I can know to a high degree of certainty after skimming the Table of Contents or going to a select number of TABBED pages whether to keep with the book for my present needs or look elsewhere.

To close the post, below the photo spread I list four INCREDIBLY helpful (to me) links that lead to really great (to me) material that I’ve encountered over the past week or so. It didn’t feel right to “sit on them” without sharing. 😉 I hope you find something useful in one if not most of them. Please add your comments.

Well, back to thesising I go! Wishing you joy, clarity, and any breakthroughs you desire as you continue to squash effective tomatoes and cross off tasks toward reaching your milestones and crossing that finished line.Quote_DecideThatYouWantItMoreThanYouAreAfraidOfItWe’re going to get there! We are closer today than we were yesterday. Let’s do this! Solidarity vibes. 🙂

Please enjoy the photo gallery and links below.




Some Reads Perhaps Very Worth Your Time

  1. Distractions and Solutions posted at the (research) supervisor’s friend
  2. The Different Stages of the Writing Process posted at the Research Voodoo blog NOTE: The author recently enjoyed having one of her posts Freshly Pressed!
  3. Using English for Academic Purposes (a webguide for students in higher education) by Andy Gillett: This is a clear, illuminating, easy-and-even-fun-to-navigate website all about academic writing at higher levels. It’s the simplicity and CLARITY of the explanations, married with the diagrams, that strike me about this content. I’ll be back lots, I think.
  4. 6 Easy-to-Steal Rituals of Extremely Successful People posted at the Marc and Angel Hack Life blog

Embodied learning & its productive limitations

I love Katherine Firth’s post on embodied learning. It gets at all sorts of wonderful points behind my need to do not just pomodoros but S.M.A.R.T. pomodoros.

Research Degree Voodoo

It’s funny, we talk about limitations as if they were a bad thing . As if eternity and infinity and boundlessness was superior to now and today and here.

But we all know that nothing motivates like a deadline. We all know that some of the best poems are sonnets. We all know that the bloated budget film is often worse than the tight little indie feature (the Lord of the Rings films vs The Hobbit films anyone?).

Much of the writing about learning online seems to be all like:

‘on the internet there are no boundaries, no bodies, no time! We are infinite and beyond our bodies and this is a good thing!’

N. Katharine Hayles (1999) has already effectively addressed this tendency, (and I’ve already written a riposte to this point, another attack on the disembodied life of the mind), and so I’m not going to rehash that particular argument…

View original post 1,403 more words

OCR Solution: PDF XChange Viewer (and maybe Editor, too?)

Short version: 

I think the free PDF XChange Viewer (and perhaps Editor, I don’t know) solves a lot of the headaches associated with trying to achieve OCR of non-OCR PDFs. Here’s the link: http://www.tracker-software.com/prod…xchange-viewer. You have to search around to find the Viewer because it is being replaced by Editor, but Editor might be fine. I don’t know. I just know that Viewer works (and I need Viewer instead of Editor).


Detailed version:

A while back someone was asking about how to deal with PDFs that don’t allow you to highlight text for copying, pasting etc.

As was explained, the problem with such PDFs is that they are photocopy images (pictures) that do not have character recognition (i.e., OCR) of the text in the PDF-picture.

And so, a lot of times when you apply OCR apps to such PDFs to try to obtain OCR, these apps’ accuracy at interpreting pictures of text is somewhat good but you usually have to watch out for a significant number of errors. Also, many OCR utilities will generate a separate, new PDF or text file that usually does a little distortion of the layout of the original.

Well, I’ve only used it once, but the free program PDF XChange Viewer has an OCR button (I accidentally saw it today). I clicked it. It asked me whether I wanted a medium or high level of accuracy. I selected high. Then it took a few minutes to do OCR, and then voila: Still working in the original PDF, I was then able to highlight text and right-click and save.

Link: http://www.tracker-software.com/prod…xchange-viewer

The developers are replacing PDF XChange Viewer with PDF XChange Editor. It is still free I believe, and it’s an upgrade to PDF XChange Viewer. You can still find the Viewer if you look carefully for it on one of the pages of the website. I mention this because if you are a Docear user (Docear is a program that looks at your XChange Viewer highlights, annotations, etc. and extracts them onto a mind map for you), then you will want to use PDF XChange Viewer and not Editor. Also, I don’t know a thing about Editor: I don’t know if it has the OCR button, though I would imagine it does.

Fingers crossed that the OCR is truly as accurate as it seems to be. That would be gravy!



Good Point!: Breathe OUT Sometimes


Today I seem to be receiving the same message again and again, via various platforms:

  1. First, this link popped up in my twitter feed: http://researchvoodoo.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/the-perfect-sentence-vortex-and-how-to-escape-it/.
  2. It mentioned this excellent article, which changed my whole outlook on thesising for today: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/06/magazine/be-wrong-as-fast-as-you-can.html
  3. Then this blog post arrived in my email inbox, referring me to this excellent read: http://sivers.org/io.

These all spoke the same thing to me: “Z, get some things down, quick, and take a look at them!”

I must have been listening, subconsciously, because for the past hour I’ve been zooming along, capturing in text and with picture ways to maximize the research benefits of my current study. Consequently at the moment I’m feeling GREAT about my project, and if you are a student scholar especially, you know how significant it is to experience genuinely good feelings about your project, your work (both yield and process), and your sense of making progress.


At the moment I am inspired!: “breathing out” instead of always “breathing in.” My creative juices are flowing, and I see a clear connection between this work and the eventual write-up! Yes! I’m taking a Tiger Woods “knee to the ground while pumping the fist!” 🙂

What encourages you, academically-speaking and research or writing -wise? What inspires you? Have you connected with it today? As the links above advise, try “breathing out,” keeping in mind the wisdom of “being wrong as fast as you can.”

Godspeed with today’s endeavors,

Mickey (Z)

[Downloadable] OneNote Binder Tailored for Academic Researchers and Writers


Link to the binder: http://tinyurl.com/zcqvu95 or https://app.box.com/OneNoteBinderForResearchers.

NOTE: I’ve made this post a sticky: That means it stays at the top of the blog. Newer blog posts show up below it.

[ADDITION] OneNote PRINTING HELP: To the end of this post I’ve added instructions on how to PRINT OneNote items from OneNote 2010 (other versions may differ).


OneNote is now available for Windows, Apple, and Android devices.

I have created a OneNote binder tailored for academic researchers and writers. The video below previews it. Once downloaded, you can customize and tweak it as you wish.

OneNote is a powerful, robust tool because OneNote mirrors the layout of a physical binder of notebooks, syncs across computers via SkyDrive/OneDrive, and allows for such features as:

  1. Automatic versioning of OneNote pages
  2. Tagging of content in OneNote (including creation of custom tags) and searching by tags
  3. Password protecting of tabs and sections
  4. Dragging-and-dropping into OneNote
  5. Adding screen clippings to OneNote
  6. Printing to OneNote via the OneNote printer
  7. OCR
  8. Deep searching across notebooks, in one notebook, or in one section (including Boolean searching and use of quotation marks to search for exact wording)
  9. Searching for words in audio and video notes/content
  10. Inking (handwriting)
  11. Handwriting to text conversion
  12. Nesting of notebook sections groups
  13. Nesting of subpages under pages, with the ability to collapse and expand subpages
  14. Notebook sharing and real-time collaboration with others
  15. File attachment
  16. Page templates
  17. Docking to desktop
  18. And more . . .

The learning curve is not bad, and OneNote can become even more powerful for users who read about how to use OneNote, view video tutorials, learn keyboard shortcuts, and add in OneNote add-ins of choice.

One of the best introductory videos about OneNote that I’ve encountered is the YouTube video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuTBdonbYZo. If you already know the basics of OneNote, you might advance to about time stamp 17:44 of the YouTube video for some of the more advanced features and tips.

I’m pairing OneNote with my Livescribe Pulse pen (see this video to get the gist), my Windows laptop (see this video to see OneNote paired with a tablet), and my Windows Nokia Lumia 1020 smart phone to work smart, especially in terms of going “analog” more often when it’s more prudent to hand-write than to work on the computer. See this post and this video and even parts of this wonderful book for more about the importance of balancing analog versus digital working modes for learning and creative/academic work.

OneNote is an application to consider among options such as EverNote and Devonthink. Some people use OneNote in conjunction with EverNote or Devonthink, while others replace EverNote or Devonthink with OneNote. It is helpful to search the internet and read blogs and comments about the differences between OneNote and other similar programs and about different ways of using OneNote in conjunction with other programs.

Trying to figure out how to print an entire section or particular pages in a section from OneNote 2010?


  1. Click on the desired section tab. Look at the list of pages down the right-hand column.
  2. Select the pages you want to print, while holding down the
    1. the CONTROL KEY to select individual pages one at a time or
    2. the SHIFT KEY to select the first and last page you want . . .which will THEN result in selecting the first page you clicked, the last page your clicked, and all pages in between.
  3. Click on “File” at the very top of the OneNote program. Then click on “Print.”
  4. Click on “Print Preview” to format things or scroll through what will be printed . . . and/or click “Print” to print.
  5. IMPORTANT: If you need a PDF printer, install the free program CutePDF Writer onto your computer, and you will now have a PDF printer installed as an option for printing any time you print any document.

I hope that helps!


Dealing with Writer’s Block Part 4 of 4: What I’ve Learned and Generated in Response Over the Past 5 Years

(. . . continued from the previous post)

[6] The Urgent, Important Priority of Maintaining Mental, Digital, and Physical Organization (Because for Me Even the Slightest Bit of Chaos Can Induce Writer’s Block!)

I’m looking at my definition of writer’s block again:

Writer’s block is the lack of writing generation that results when a person attempts to write or force writing when either (1) he or she has not done sufficient prewriting, (2) he or she cannot focus on the ONE sentence or paragraph or section that can be written, or when (3) he or she has yet to consciously or subconsciously fully buy in to the idea that NOW is the time to get the writing down.

Even if I have done sufficient prewriting . . . even if my mind is peacefully processing only the current item of focus so that my mind is not too overwhelmed with ideas and information . . . even if I am task-focused (i.e., have the willpower AND the motivation) . . . if I can’t find, access, or display my prewriting content (outlines, notes, annotations, quotes, etc.) fully or fluidly or in a way that doesn’t interrupt my flow of thought during writing . . . I am, for all intents and purposes, WRITING BLOCKED.

Thankfully, over the years I have continuously improved my personal writing methodology along with the level of sync/seamlessness between the tools I use for each component of my personal writing methodology.

It is flexible: When I need to go vocal, I can without creating files to lose all over my computer and thus getting unorganized. Instead I can capture what I vocalize, juxtapose the audio recording with what I’m writing, and USE it all. Also, when I need to go COMPLETELY physical and get out of the computer, I can do so in such a way that keeps things in my visual field, refreshes me, gets the writing flowing, and fits into my overall outline.

Some of the ways I “go physical” include working on my make-shift thesis research board (see photo gallery below), in my Livescribe pen and notebook, in my thesis binder, or via a method of outlining-and-writing-on-physical-note cards discussed here with photos here. I have learned over time how to capture my physical work in ways that can EASILY be organized and incorporated into my digital work.

That brings me to the conclusion 🙂 . . .

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[7] CONCLUSION: My Methodology, Physical and Digital Tools, and Workflow

I’ve made some pretty significant tweaks to my writing methodology and workflow since I last did an update here at the blog. The reason for the major changes? I have rediscovered MS OneNote. Oh, it is GLORIOUS once you sync the web and desktop apps and start using some of its features that allow you to

  • store your PHYSICAL work digitally in an ORGANIZED way without having to work hard to do so,
  • drag and drop from other applications,
  • print a website or PDF directly to OneNote via the OneNote printer that installs with OneNote,
  • open OneNote in your handwriting-recognizing tablet if you have one (I don’t yet but my physically-created yet digital Livescribe pencasts such as this one sync to OneNote).

WARNING: If you invest in a Livescribe pen, do your research VERY carefully. I have an older model that allows me to tap on the physical paper where I’ve handwritten notes and hear playback of audio notes I’ve recorded. The new Livescribe 3 does not permit this. It has other features for audio playback. Also, some Livescribe pen models were designed with Evernote in mind, some with iPad in mind, etc. Some only work over Wi-Fi, etc. There are MANY complaints at the website over these differences from folks who purchased “the wrong” pen given the technology or apps they own or prefer. I love my pen but knew precisely what I was getting and what I wasn’t getting, and I knew exactly how I could get it to fit into my workflow. In the future I will use a stylus with a digital tablet and likely phase Livescribe out of my workflow, though I have liked that the Livescribe pen and notebook allow me to work apart from a computer, tablet, and the ever-distracting Internet.

I don’t have the time free now to fully document my updated writing methodology and workflow in light of MS OneNote. Perhaps sooner than later I’ll be able to make a short, unscripted video just so some components of the methodology and workflow can be seen. It might inspire ideas for your own. Of course, everyone’s writing methodology and workflow are necessarily personalized and my methods might not help you at all. In the meanwhile, here’s the overview:

  1. MS OneNote: Organize writing as a writing PROJECT into an easy-to-keep, organized, digital notebook that mirrors the structure of a physical notebook. Do MS OneNote screen captures, print websites to MS OneNote, print PDFs to MS OneNote for annotation, collect all your musings and ideas and considerations and inspirations and strategies . . . etc. Keep to do lists. Make video and audio annotations. Etc.
  2. Mendeley: Organize PDFs into folders. Tag articles (with tags such as “was read on date ___,” “was printed on date ___,” etc.). Add keywords to articles (“methodology,” “content analysis,” “research question 1,” etc.). Do deep, deep searches down into the text of your PDF collection to quickly re-identify articles that you often vaguely remember. Do first-pass reading and do light note-taking and annotating. Your PDF stays clean. Your notes and annotations are searchable. Organization of notes, however, is not the best . . .
  3. . . . Enter Citavi. I’ve said much about it here at the blog. I believe this is the most comprehensive Citavi video I’ve made. Readers can enter “Citavi” in the search box at the top of the blog to pull up videos and discussion of Citavi.
  4. Docear for going from the concepts about which you’re reading to an outline (I just ignore the not-so-pretty interface in Docear). Toggle back-and-forth between a concept map display and a vertical outline display of the same content. This jolts ideas and thoughts and hierarchy. Export as mind map and import into Scrivener, Citavi, MS Word, XMind, etc. as you need.
  5. XMind: Please see previous discussion of Xmind in this four-part post.
  6. Scrivener: Planning of writing, sketching of writing (see this Carlis document), etc. Between:
    1. the snap shot (versioning) feature,
    2. the project notes panel which can hold your research question and abstract so you can always display it near your writing,
    3. the near-your-writing document notes panel,
    4. the near-your-writing synopsis card,
    5. the ability to create a Scrivener file as template that you use to create brainstorm, raw draft, first draft, and final draft versions using the same outline (Scrivener template file),
    6. etc.,
      there’s LOTS of mental and logical support for writing within Scrivener.
  7. Pencil and note card to implement this strategy or Livescribe pen and notebook in order to write by hand as prudent or helpful.
  8. MS Word for first drafting, with Citavi open within containing your outline and all your notes, quotes, thoughts, images, etc. Import Scrivener sections into MS Word as desired. Citavi handles citations and bibliography-building JUST BEAUTIFULLY.

The remaining key players in my work flow include Snagit, Snagit Editor, and now Watership Planner (which has a medium-level learning curve, which I asked for an academic discount, and which surpasses Liquid Planner for personal project management, IMO).

Well, I would love to hear of how you define and deal (or have dealt) with writer’s block, so please add your comments. For instance, I never benefited from EverNote by which many people swear! It’s MS OneNote all the way for me. Do you find EverNote very good or even indispensable? How are you using it? Also, how do you smooth things between working physically and digitally? Do you go all physical largely until it’s time to draft? Do you go all digital? Or have you found tools that help you marry your physical and digital work?

Inquiring minds want to know! 😀

Take care and godspeed with your current endeavors!

Many blessings,


Dealing with Writer’s Block Part 3 of 4: What I’ve Learned and Generated in Response Over the Past 5 Years

(. . . discussion is continued from the previous post)

[4] Generative Writing or Freewriting? (NOTE: For Me the Former BLOCKS Writer’s Block and the Latter Just EXACERBATES Writer’s Block. You?)

Freewriting helps a lot of people.

I am not one of those people.

However, I tried it because I was “blocked” and people swore by freewriting and told me I was the blame for still being blocked since I refused to freewrite.

I have since learned that it is not for lack of freewriting but for lack of prewriting that I get blocked. I mean, if all it took was freewriting . . . Heck! I’d NEVER be blocked! Ever! Give me a topic and oh, I can frewrite about it! LOL! That’s not the solution for me.

But, even though I knew very clearly and viscerally from experience that freewriting harms more than helps me, I tried it for a major deadline. Because of what people said: “Z, you WANT to be stuck since you refuse to freewrite your way out of this.” This “guilted” me. So I freewrote. And freewrote more when that didn’t resolve things. And freewrote some more in efforts to keep trying and “stay the course.”

Argh. Why did I go against my own mind?!?!! Isn’t the saying “To thine own self be true”? What a mess for me. I ended up with random, unclear smatterings and smatterings of writing. Hidden somewhere within some of these freewriting documents were really, good, needed paragraphs (although needed precisely for WHAT and precisely WHERE in the draft I couldn’t say) amid mostly un-usable paragraphs. These good paragraphs were nested somewhere within 10 to 20 different Word files or Scrivener text files (within one Scrivener file).

Ultimately, my trying to parse through it all, relocate the good paragraphs, and then put it together in some kind of coherent way became a huge, distracting task. I majored in freewrite reading and copying and pasting and minored in draft production. 😦 Boo!

Instead of freewriting, what works for me is sketch writing, and if need be generative writing. You can read about sketch writing here. Generative writing is a mode of writing which I view as similar to freewriting but more targeted. Boice here writes about generative writing and spontaneous writing. I share the gist of how I do generative writing in this post. It’s my own tweak of my merge of different generative writing strategies.

[5] The Role of Prewriting (for Me)

I can’t do academic writing if I haven’t

  1. read (physical copies/books or in digital copies in Mendeley or Citavi),
  2. taken notes (perhaps a tiny amount of preliminary note taking in Mendeley, but otherwise in a toggle-able Docear mind map at early stages and at later stages in Citavi all the way . . . because it affords every step of Dr. Single’s method as explained in the video and book linked below),
  3. annotated PDFs and books (early stages in Mendeley and later stages in Citavi. . . might copy and paste from Citavi into Docear if I need to back up and restructure and rethink),
  4. excerpted quotes from PDFs and books (Citavi),
  5. began to group my notes, quotes, annotations, etc. into topics and subjects, etc. (Citavi, Docear)
  6. Created an outline that does not function like a prison guard (i.e., that I view somewhat flexibly): Docear mind map which exports to MS Word, Scrivener, Citavi, PDF, etc.

NOTE 1: In part 4 of this post series, I include links to my videos or posts about some of these resources.

NOTE 2: This book of Single’s is just about worth its weight in gold regarding how helpful it is in informing academic writers on how to do prewriting that leads to WRITING. Dr. Single shares much helpful advice here: http://www.insidehighered.com/users/peg-boyle-single. The video below gives you a glimpse of what Dr. Single’s book covers. The book is SO clarifying and will have you on your merry, productive, thesis-writing way!

(discussion is continued in the next post . . .)

Dealing with Writer’s Block Part 2 of 4: What I’ve Learned and Generated in Response Over the Past 5 Years

(. . . discussion is continued from the previous post)

Aside: Another Possible Factor: Writing Time Management

There is one other trigger of writer’s block that comes to mind: purposely trying to write too much in what is too small a span of time. Jame Hayton has an EXCELLENT webinar that discusses the given of slow academic writing at times and how to incorporate this inevitability and make good progress anyway.

The problem of sometimes needing to write too much in too small a span of time can seem unavoidable given all that today’s graduate student is juggling in his or her schedule. This is EXACERBATED, from my experience, when an individual doesn’t know how to capitalize on the 10 minutes here and there that arise throughout the day between activities, (e.g. when in a long line, when some sort of stall occurs and leaves the person waiting, or when one is just sitting and waiting for the next activity or appointment or event to begin, etc.).

To deal in general with pacing myself during a writing session, I sometimes do what I call S.M.A.R.T. tomatoes or pomodoros (this is a pomodoro technique move). To equip myself to be able to write throughout the day in the 10 minutes that pop up here and there, I carry (1) a Livescribe pen and notebook (please see my warning note about Livescribe in Part 4 of this series) and/or (2) a zip lock bag of color-schemed note cards to hold outlines and first drafts of paragraphs.

From physical to digital: Once I get the chance, I sync my Livescribe notebook with my computer. Regarding the handwriting on physical note cards, immediately after drafting on a note card, I snap a photo of the note card with my Smartphone and save it to the cloud. This way it matters not if I lose the note cards or someone takes my bag, note cards inside! I am later able to embed the photo of the note cards in my Scrivener, MS Word, or MS OneNote file and type from it right below the photo. Then I can delete the image from the file.

[2] Have a Helpful, ACTIONABLE Definition of “Writing”

James Hayton delivers a very good webinar entitled “Becoming a Better Academic Writer.” I love the definition of writing that he provides in the webinar:

Using very informative slides that he sends to you after the webinar, James explains how academic writing works (it’s different from creative writing and James Hayton brings helpful awareness about this), and this webinar along with a few others of his, in my opinion, go far in arming the writer AGAINST writer’s block.

[3] Resources, Links, etc. That Have Helped Me Most to Understand and Avoid/Prevent/Surmount Writer’s Block

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Following the last point made above, I’ll go ahead and list some of the resources that rise to the top among all the resources I’ve sought, tried, read, used, etc. to help me avoid, deactivate, and/or overcome writer’s block. These in my opinion EQUIP, EQUIP, EQUIP (and encountering the items in bullet point 6A turned things around 180!) :

  1. This document from which I learned how to make a road map for my writing based on the POINT of academic writing (advice therein resonates strongly with this book and with the content in bullet point 6A below)
  2. This short document, for having a VISION and understanding of what an academic paragraph is (made of)
  3. James Hayton’s blog and webinars, especially this one that touches upon both  psychological flow and writing flow
  4. This book for understanding the definition of a paragraph and how (your) reader’s experience (your) paragraphs
  5. This YouTube channel, especially this video and this video
  6. These books to give me a sense of what an academic paper or dissertation IS and the process of building it, from idea to final draft:
    1. this book of Single’s, the content of which is discussed in this video
    2. this book of Murray’s
    3. this book of Foss and Waters’s
    4. this book of Maxwell’s if the study is qualitative
    5. this book and/or this book of Creswell’s, depending on one’s needs and research design, and
  7. Other resources, many of the most helpful which I’ve collected in my blog’s blogroll links (please see the left column of the home page) or at this tumblr of mine

(discussion is continued in the next post . . .)

Dealing with Writer’s Block Part 1 of 4: What I’ve Learned and Generated in Response Over the Past 5 Years

Greetings! I hope this post finds you well.

The topic of today’s PhDchat (on Twitter at 17:30 GMT, #phdchat) is writer’s block. Accordingly, in this post I reflect on how I’ve tried to deal with what is commonly referred to as writer’s block. I discuss the definition, concepts, resources, approach, links, etc. that have helped me most to deal with, deactivate, or overcome writer’s block.

I have divided this post into the following topics:

  1. Have a Helpful, ACTIONABLE Definition of “Writer’s Block”
  2. Have a Helpful, ACTIONABLE Definition of “Writing”
  3. Resources, Links, etc. That Have Helped Me Most to Understand and Avoid/Prevent/Surmount Writer’s Block
  4. Generative Writing or Freewriting? (NOTE: For Me the Former BLOCKS Writer’s Block and the Latter Just EXACERBATES Writer’s Block. You?)
  5. The Role of Prewriting (for Me)
  6. The Urgent, Important Priority of Maintaining Mental, Digital, and Physical Organization (Because for Me Even the Slightest Bit of Chaos Can Induce Writer’s Block!)
  7. CONCLUSION: My Methodology, Physical and Digital Tools, and Workflow

I’d love to hear of what works for you to help enable you to deal with, deactivate, or overcome writer’s block. Please share your knowledge, comments, or questions in the comments section, and as always, happy writing!

Alrighty, then!

On to the post . . .

[1] Have a Helpful, ACTIONABLE Definition of “Writer’s Block”

Here is my personal definition of writer’s block:

Writer’s block is the lack of writing generation that results when a person attempts to write or force writing when either (1) he or she has not done sufficient prewriting, (2) he or she cannot focus on the ONE sentence or paragraph or section that can be written, or when (3) he or she has yet to consciously or subconsciously fully buy in to the idea that NOW is the time to get the writing down.

This is a helpful definition for me: It identifies the sources/causes, and it is actionable. It does not leave me helpless. The implications:

  1. If I am trying to hack through writing something and I haven’t done sufficient prewriting activities (reading, note-taking, annotating, quote-extraction, semi-flexible outlining, etc.), then I stop and prewrite and then commence writing FROM my prewriting resources.
  2. If my mind is buzzing with all sorts of thoughts such that I cannot focus on the one thing I’m trying to put down (e.g., I’m thinking about what could go into a another section so much that I can’t write about this section), then I go VOCAL (and capture my think-aloud) because what is happening at the moment is that the sequential writing medium is not “fast enough for me” because I have too much in the mind. Ways I go vocal:
    1. Put my outline into XMind, place my prewriting materials (notes, outlines, quotes,excepts, images, etc.) in front of me, and create audio note think-alouds that are 1-minute MAX IN LENGTH. I name them briefly right then if I have the time or otherwise name them later. When I replay the think-aloud audio notes, I type as I listen to them. I often do this typing RIGHT THERE in each audio note’s space for TEXT NOTES. The text notes are all exportable together to one MS Word file, PDF, etc.Before exporting, I usually don’t further organize the audio notes beyond their initial location on my XMind mind map “outline,” but if did need to further organize them, this would just consist of dragging and dropping them onto parent category nodes that collect them into topics/subjects.IMPORTANT: Any audio note over 1 minute in length is in danger of becoming a time sink/sucker. I’d rather have ten 1-minute audio notes than two 5-minute audio notes.Reflection: Doing this on a mind map is good if you are still sort of designing the structure or coming up with ideas. Alternatively . . .
    2. Perhaps more easily and quickly done, you can just copy your outline into MS One Note and attach audio notes besides each element in your outline.
  3. If I have donesufficientprewriting and if my brain is NOT racing with ideas — i.e., attempting to write too many sections at once — then something else is wrong. Typically, the problem is insufficient focus which typically for me is a function of either willpower or motivation.
    1. According to the authors of this book, studies have shown that what you eat can affect your level of will power. This is because willpower is related to your physical state and is a resource like gasoline that can run out and therefore must be repeatedly replenished. So if I need to get some sleep and come back to writing, then it is what it is. Sometimes it’s just like that.It helps me to know to think of will power as functioning like fuel instead of 100% being my moral ability to commandeer myself to do what’s best. Of course on some level deep down I want to do what’s best. However, I need to be in the right physical and mental state to allow will power to work. There are different levels of tired and different types of mental/emotional fatigue, and some levels disrupt will power. At those times, I must rest or eat or do recreational activities to replenish.
    2. I define motivation as “having fully decided and bought into the idea that something is to be done, and now.” If I don’t have motivation, I have to get some somehow IF the writing is to happen. Simple as that. For me, if I work around others who are making GREAT progress and are ON IT, that usually suffices. If I write for someone (meaning they are going to receive WHATEVER I have at a given time, regardless of how complete, and what they say matters to me), that tends to work, especially if the trajectory of my project might change based on what the readers think of what I’ve written. That is typically the case for me. True deadline + knowledge that I am a slow writer = motivation for me.One of these days I hope to evolve beyond being a deadline-driven writer. I am making a little headway: I now want to write so that I can be finished and move on to the next stages in store. Still, deadlines drive!

For a in-depth look at writer’s block — along with some very practical and distinct strategies for surmounting writer’s block — please see this book extract (at The Guardian) of one of Rowena Murray’s most excellent books on writing.

(discussion is continued in the next post . . .)

New Menu Item: Tools (Favorites, Abandoned or Replaced, Under Evaluation, and Watchlist)


Inspired by the blog Dr. Andus’s toolbox, I have added a new menu item to this blog. If you select “(0) Tools” in this blog’s menu at the top, you’ll reach these clickable, drop-down hyperlinks menu subitems:

(0a) Favorite Tools

(0b) Abandoned or Replaced Tools

(0c) Tools I’m Evaluating

(0d) Tools on My Watchlist

There is some information at these pages now, but it’ll take me a bit to get the pages in “good, good” shape. But, I wanted to let you know these exist! It’s a way of updating all the talk about tools in ONE place–the tools menu–instead of all over the blog.