Taking a Swing at Writer’s Block

We’ve all been there… staring at an incomplete (or still blank) writing assignment that’s due far too soon and having absolutely no idea what to write. More often than not, the best-case scenario is that you stare at your materials and reread your work until something semi-coherent trickles out of your bogged up brain. The worst? You suddenly find yourself on Facebook, having scrolled so far down your newsfeed that you’re in danger of liking something from embarrassingly long ago.

While everyone you meet will give you a different way to beat the dreaded writer’s block, I’d like to share my favorite method with you:


No, not this type of squash….
A drawing of a squash court.

For those who don’t know what squash is, you’re inside a room with four walls, one of which is designated the front wall. You hit a very small ball with a racket, and your opponent has to hit it back before it has bounced twice. As long as your shot hits the front wall at some point before bouncing, you are allowed to hit any combination of walls. For example, you can hit a shot into the side wall that then ricochets off of the front wall to the opposite side wall. You can also hit off the back wall and watch the ball fly over your head to hit the front wall before bouncing.

Squash is not only great physical exercise, but also a mental workout—due to the strategic nature of the sport, some professional players have called it “physical chess”. To win, you have to think several shots ahead and move your opponent all around the court while constantly evaluating the best angle and combination of walls to use for your next shot.

When I’m stuck on an assignment, I will often grab my racket and hit by myself for an hour or so. I’ve found that squash provides fantastic stress relief for a number of reasons. First, it is great exercise, which clears my head and increases my productivity. Second, the mental aspect requires my full attention, which takes my mind off of work. By the time I’m done, I usually have an idea for the next step. On top of that, I feel incredibly energized and focused, and even though I have spent an hour away from my work, that time is made up when I progress faster through the assignment.

Next time you’re looking for a cure to writer’s block, squash may be your answer. Your brain will be forced to stop focusing on the same thoughts over and over again. The writing assignment will be relegated to your subconscious, which is often extremely helpful for coming up with ideas. Finally, unlike with most racket sports, you don’t need an opponent to practice. If you find yourself needing to play at a strange hour, you can hit by yourself since the wall sends the ball straight back to you. Even better, you can swing as hard as you want to ease your stress, and the ball will still come back.

The view from inside a squash court.

Of course, not everyone plays squash. Though I certainly advocate giving it a try, it’s important to find your own version of it. One of the most essential—yet overlooked—aspects of being a student is knowing how to manage your stress and how to get yourself out of a mental rut. Never be afraid to take some time to play a sport or work out—it is a great way to burn off stress and to take care of yourself both physically and mentally. Ultimately, the benefits you reap from your break will allow you to complete your work faster and better than before.

This strategy doesn’t just apply to writing—it can help you break through a mental block or recover from burnout on any sort of assignment. If you spend too long thinking about something you have to do, you are likely to eventually hit a wall in terms of both ideas and motivation to continue. Taking your mind off of the project to do something you enjoy that will refresh you mentally and physically is one of the best things you can do to ensure your success as a student.

— Alexandra Koskosidis, Engineering Correspondent