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Senior column: Fighting writer’s block

Photo via Angeline Schmelzer.

The hardest thing to write is the first sentence.

In journalism, we place a lot of pressure on the first sentence; it’s the lead (or lede), after all. It must grab the reader’s attention, while also informing them of the most important details. Similar criteria go for professional emails, academic papers and fictional stories.

A piece of writing is only as good as its first sentence.

Wrong!

Yes, you can revise the first draft many times until it becomes everything you want it to be, but you have to jot something down first. Words can be changed, syntax can be revised and a comma can be replaced. There is no need to put so much weight on the first thing that you type on a page.

One of the best pieces of writing advice I ever received came from my mom. She’s not a professional writer, but she is the best person to go to in times of crisis. During one of our many conversations where I doubted myself and told her I didn’t know what to write, she said, “Just start with ‘the.’”
Now, whenever I’m at a loss for words, I start with the word “the.” Don’t believe me? Read the first sentence again. And yes, I too am thinking of that pivotal moment in “Spongebob Squarepants” when he writes the fancy “The.”

Sometimes, I can start with the first word and my fingers glide across the keyboard like I’m in the book “Click, Clack, Moo,” but other times, my words move like a slow traffic jam. One word, stop, finish the thought, change the music, start a new paragraph, stare out the window for a bit, write some more, reread the sentence five times and realize it’s too long and make a complete stop.

Maybe I’m taking a while to get to the point, but good writing takes time, does it not?

What I’m saying is that writing can be a lot like life, especially now as I am experiencing a whole new kind of writer’s block.

What in the world am I going to do next?

Before now, I had a plan. The table of contents was clear: Go to school, get good grades, attend college and graduate. It was all there in a neatly organized, double-spaced document.

I knew I would major in journalism because I loved to write and enjoyed my high school newspaper class. I had no doubt in my mind that I would join The Scout as soon as I could. I even placed the nameplate on my high school graduation cap with the phrase “and the story goes on.”

Adding a management and leadership minor was an unforeseen event, but learning leadership techniques helped me in my role as Editor-in-Chief of The Scout. The advertising/public relations minor was an easy passage to add after meeting the amazing professors who led the program. 

Now, I am looking at a mostly blank page with only three words.

Get. A. Job.

Just like the first sentence, the first job out of college has a similar pressure, and the same advice applies. 

Get it on the page. In this case, the resumé. 

The first job doesn’t have to be the most glorious gig or a forever career, it just needs to happen and be a jumping-off point for future and better things. It’s just the introduction, and there are sure to be more examples in the body.

Many people have helped me write my memoir at Bradley, and I would like to take a moment to recognize all that they have done to help me get to where I am today.

First and foremost, I would be nowhere without the guidance I received from my parents. I’ve written columns about each of them while at The Scout, but words cannot express how truly grateful I am to have two wonderful parents supporting me in all my adventures and plot twists.

My professors have also been the best supporting characters in my life as they have listened to my complaints, steered me in the right direction and let me take up way too much of their time. Sara Netzley, Cory Barker, Rachelle Pavelko and Grace Wang: thank you for all the hours spent in your offices chatting about class and life.

Last but certainly not least, I must thank The Scout. This Sisson office, where I write this column and hold back tears, will always hold a special place in my heart. 

I am currently sitting in the very place where Tony Xu and Cole Bredahl interviewed me for copy editor on Sept. 2, 2018. I remember being amazed by the quote board and the bean bag — two things I will miss dearly. Thank you for taking a chance on a freshman and letting me into this unforgettable space.

To our adviser Chris Kaergard, you have been an amazing leader and teacher. I have learned so much about the world of journalism throughout our conversations and Sunday critiques. 

Thank you to Haley Johnson for being a great leader and an even better friend. I miss your presence in this office, but you have left an indelible mark on this organization and on my life.

Valerie Vasconez, you sit across from me now, perhaps working on your own senior column. Who knew we would become such great friends? We will always have our laughs and amazing meals together. Best of luck, and I look forward to reading your very successful travel blog.

Jade Sewell, you are a bright shining light that will never lose its sparkle. Thank you for all the laughs. I will miss you probably more than I realize right now, especially the times when we record the “Study Break” podcast. Maybe we should start our own podcast just for fun and see where it goes.

To the next team of editors: I have so much confidence in you all, and I know you will do a great job continuing the legacy of this organization. Thursday nights are tough, but they’re worth it. I even think I will miss them … not for long, though. If I ever wake up at 3 a.m. on a Friday morning with birds oddly chirping, I will think of you.

Writer’s block can be a large obstacle to jump over when you’re on deadline — especially at midnight when you realize the editorial isn’t finished, or on the day of a big assignment being due — but sometimes it’s okay to embrace writer’s block and let the words flow naturally.

That first sentence, first job, first step in a new direction will all happen soon enough. It’s also okay to stare at a blank page for a while.

As I write the conclusion to my chapter at Bradley, I’m sad that it’s ending. However, I’m also excited to see how the next chapter will begin.

The end.

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