Critic Vs. Writer’s Block

Critic Vs. Writer’s Block


It’s that time of year again: the born-and-bred Southlanders are starting to put on layers, all plans are “soft plans”, and everyone’s trying to get their shit together so badly that they’re ending up constipated. Exams are on the horizon, assignments are piling up and you’re running out of extensions when writer’s block-
[Intro about the time of the semester and everyone getting writer’s block. Here are Critic staff’s personal recommendations for how to overcome it.] -fuck it, we’re leaving that in. Something something Critic Te Ārohi does something. 

Nina - The Hemingway Method (red wine, low lighting, and music)

Sam’s busting my balls about calling this the Hemingway method, but it’s no coincidence that some of the greatest artists and writers in history were also some of the most renowned high-functioning substance abusers known to man (I write with nothing to back that up but it sounds about right). There's also a reason why it’s called writer’s block – it’s like you can physically feel the dam in your brain stemming the creative juices from flowing. Know what’ll knock that baby right down? Booze. It’s like the study version of a tipsy party confidence boost that only comes after a couple drinks, but you’re sweet talking your now not-so-blank page rather than the crush you only think is cute because you work with them. I like to make it feel high-art by pouring myself a glass of red wine, putting on some mellow tunes, and making the room lamp lit. Kick things up a notch by switching to pen and paper to add to the tortured artist of the ye old days vibe and let yourself run down the rabbit holes of random pieces of inspiration. If you end up feeling like Charlie from that scene in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia yelling about Pepe Silvia, then you know it’s working. 

Pros: It’s fucking fun to feel like a crazed art teacher while you write
Cons: Reading it back the next morning
Overall: 8/10 This method probably only works for Arts majors

Jordan - Good movie, crappy movie

As someone who does a lot of creative writing for both English and Theatre, I can often get stuck on what to do and where to take my story. The best way to reignite the fire is to know how to write a narrative. I do this by watching one bad movie (to know what not to do) and one good movie (to know what to do). Most recently I watched Alvin and the Chipmunks and The Silence of the Lambs (you decide which is which). When you need a likeable protagonist to root for, you make sure their motivations line up with their actions (Dave complains to Ian that “they’re just kids” and “need a childhood” but then gets them savings bonds for Christmas???). When you’re stuck writing a script for screen and theatre it’s easy to forget that it’s a visual art form, so it’s extra important to see visual storytelling done well, e.g. when Clarice enters Buffalo Bill’s home, the audience can see the frame pictured of the moth – but she can’t. Music can also help set a scene well and reinforce themes within the text (what does The Kinks ‘You Really Got Me’ have to do with anything? It wasn’t a popular song at the time like ‘Hot ‘n Cold’ by Katy Perry). After watching these films your creativity will surge. Either out of love or spite, but it doesn’t matter.

Pros: Watching one of the best acting performances of all time (David Cross or Anthony Hopkins?)
Cons: Accidentally watching more than two films (those songs were in the Chipmunks Squeakquel)
Overall: 6/10. Writing a script with The Witch Doctor stuck in your head is not helpful

Sam - Edging (The REAL Hemingway Method)

They say spitters are quitters, so don’t be ashamed to quit while you’re ahead for the purpose of spitting out some quality content. That’s basically the Hemingway Method. Stopping work when you know EXACTLY what is coming next makes it so much easier for Tomorrow You to pick up where you left off and absolutely smash it out of the park. It’s basically edging yourself: stop when you get too excited. If you employ this method but accidentally end up stopping at a dead end, try deleting the last hundred or so words and re-writing it. Something will jump out, and once you get that bad boy open-ended, it's pretty much already written itself. Now all you have to do is shoot down to the Bottle-O and pick up the finest goon they carry for use as a writer's aid – oh shit, this has just become the other Hemingway method. 

Pros: Effective and ego-boosting (superior to Nina’s method)
Cons: Can lose momentum and might still end up with a hangover
Overall: 7/10. The road to hell is paved with adlibs 

Hugh - Word vomit

I’m flipping the switch to say that writer's block is lowkey keeping us in the dumps. You don’t really have writer's block because you could effectively write the same two words i.e., “blesh-go, blesh-go” over and over again and there wouldn’t be a problem. This being said, the best way to work your way out of a writing slump is to just write your way through it. Whatever you’re doing will look like a mess but hell, it’ll be worth it when all you have to do afterward is go back and edit out all the sexual euphemisms you worked into your essay on Chinese foreign policy. Save your you-time. [Editor’s note: You should see what I have to work with sometimes.]

Pros: Bleshgooooo.
Cons: bleshgo.
Overall: bleshgo/10 

Molly - ChatGPT 

We all love the bad boy, and what is badder than a sexy wee piece of generative AI that lecturers hate their students using! Delicious forbidden fruit. Whenever I’m feeling a little empty on the creative juices and the stress of looming deadlines is not enough, I like to pull up my friend ChatGPT and they help make all the problems go away. Don’t know how to structure an essay on the Great Gatsby? Have no understanding of political theories even though it’s your major? Or just don’t want to have to put the thousands of dollars worth of “education” you pay for to good use? Just call up ChatGPT. Many of my fellow [redacted degree] friends also find that ChatGPT can explain concepts better than the lecturers can, and can also create in-depth study notes, so really it’s a great tool for learning. Only problem is when using it as your personal essay writer you actually have to read through and edit it to make it sound human. But that’s where I call up my good old pal Quillbot. Control F some sources, chuck a bibliography in the doc and you're good to go having started less than four hours prior. God I love the internet. I also swear Turnitin can’t tell it wasn’t written by a human, but don’t blame Critic if you get caught xx

Pros: Writing a 4000 word essay in one day, with no prior knowledge of the essay topic 
Cons: Takes a wee bit of time to get sounding not too smart but not too dumb, but less time than actually writing it yourself
Overall: 4/10. The stress of getting caught almost makes it not worth it, but not really. 

Lotto - Full Blown Meltdown 

What do you do when you have inflexible deadlines, numerous disabilities, and severe executive functioning issues? Just start smashing your head on things! Sometimes one has to throw an adult tantrum. It’s not self-infantilization when you cry more than you did as an actual infant. I can’t say it’s fun, safe nor anything but degrading, but I often just need to have a quick frustrated sob (read: multi-hour long mental breakdown) before getting the clarity needed to work. It’s pretty bullshit, honestly. It often feels like the stars have to align (I don’t write the horoscope column) to have an addictive little taste of what it feels like to function normally. It’s better than [redacted] I swear to god. Hnnnnngh. Maybe they’re meltdowns, maybe it’s functioning withdrawals. Either way, when things get really dire it’s better than choking it down. Results do vary, however: sometimes you dust yourself off having worked shit out of your system and churn out a task with something akin to post-nut clarity, vape firmly between the teeth, fingers flying more excessively than Taylor Swift; other times you end up with a crygraine and hide in a blanket fort for days. I’m not one for the TAB so maybe this is my form of gambling? 

Pros: Melodrama, catharsis, a way to expel excess hydration, I guess. Also incredibly, ultimately humbling     
Cons: Forehead bruises, strange looks, internalised ableism 
Overall: 1/10. May be exclusive to a specific cocktail of neuroses 

Ellie - Stress-induced Blur 

You know the saying “diamonds are made under pressure”? Yeah, the best assignments are done the night before (or day of, if you really want). Spend a week looking at a blank document titled ‘essay plan’ and justify every time you do anything but your assignment (you deserve the break, babes). Putting off your work until the very last moment ensures you have no other choice but to get writing. Hone in on the stress that’s been making you feel nauseous – it works wonders. There reaches a point (at about hour six of an all-nighter) where the adrenaline takes over, you black out and emerge with a full piece of written work. A ‘Jesus take the wheel’ kind of situation, except Jesus is crippling anxiety. Plus, with the right playlist you can live out your tortured genius, movie montage moment fantasies. Will it be an assignment to be proud of? Arguably not. However, any success from this method will have you addicted to the superiority complex of getting a good grade with the literal least amount of effort possible. Be warned. 

Pros: If you leave something until the last minute, it only takes a minute to get done. Girl math
Cons: Developing a nervous twitch 
Overall: 5/10. Jesus takes the wheel, but with a learner’s licence

Monty - Phone a friend

We’ve all hit the horrible dead-end of writer's block, the terrifying blank page. Nothing soothes fear quite like community. Drag your friends into your bullshit by calling them and trying to explain the assignment you are failing to write. Ideally one of two things happen: 1. In trying to explain your idea you come to realise that you do know what you wanted to write, and rush off to write it down before the idea leaves you, or 2. Your friend has a fantastic idea, which you can then steal and pass off as your own. Obviously number one is the ideal outcome here, number two suffers as it relies on the quality of your friends. There’s no guarantee that they even have ideas worth stealing. This can also only be done a limited amount of times per friend before they get sick of you, so choose the moment to deploy this strategy wisely. But honestly, if you’re not worried about the potential ethics of very very mild plagiarism, I really recommend giving this a try. Isn’t university about sharing our knowledge anyway?

Pros: Has multiple positive outcomes, works pretty well, strengthens friendship bonds.
Cons: Relies on having reasonable friends. Potential plagiarism issues. You are the most annoying flatmate
Overall: 8/10. Great, but points removed for potential plagiarism 

Gryffin - Library lockdown 

Unfortunately, sometimes you need a bitta tough love. We’ve all had that 11:59pm deadline looming above us as we scroll TikTok without a single idea to write, but sometimes shit gets so bad you’ve got to deprive yourself of life’s luxuries (serotonin) for a little bit to get it done. The best approach to the library lockdown is to buy a sweet treat to have waiting for you when you get home, but the key is to keep it in your flatmate’s hands. Tell them not to let you have it until you have proof you’ve finished whatever you need to write. Heck, if you’re feeling that desperate tell them to lock the house and not let you back in until you’ve finished. And that leaves you, in the library, forced to write, temporarily homeless and treatless. The thought of snacks and being allowed back in your home, coupled with low-key flashbacks to lockdown is plenty to get those fingers typing, fast. 

Pros: Makes you actually go to the library (even though you told your friends you’d be going every day by this point in the sem)
Cons: Only works if your flatmates don’t take pity on you (may also eat your snacks)
Overall: 7/10. May result in Pavloving yourself

Kaia - Do something else for a bit

I had a Prof last semester who told me that an inability to focus on something suggested you should be doing something else. He suggested I do that ‘thought about’ thing (let your mind wander and follow it) instead of my work, with the hope that eventually I’d start feeling like doing my work again. Obviously this works to a point, but in my experience it’s a great way to justify procrastination until that last minute panic motivation kicks in. He cited a study that found people who thought about what they were doing as they did it were generally happier than those whose minds wandered. Moral of the story: If your mind keeps wandering while you’re writing, maybe do that other task you’re thinking about instead. Maybe it’s time to try a new degree? You’ve been thinking a lot about food lately. Perhaps your future lies in culinary pursuits!

Pros: Actually works super well sometimes 
Cons: Can also be a great way to avoid doing your work and feel good about it 
Overall: 6/10. Some people have brains that are allowed free range, others have a child-on-a-leash brain

This article first appeared in Issue 11, 2024.
Posted 4:00pm Saturday 11th May 2024 by Critic.