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Writer's Block - When the Usual Vocabulary Needs a Holiday

Updated on April 19, 2011

As a newcomer, Hub Pages still feels like foreign territory to me. I signed up because I thought it might inspire me to get back into the kind of writing I used to do all of the time and loved so much. But this was years ago and a few things have changed since then.

One of the things that changed is that I have now completed a master’s degree. This required loads of writing. But, some of the professors at the university said, in so many words, that if the writing was not impersonal, sterile and a bit stilted, it wasn’t truly academic. These weren’t the exact words they used but the sentiment was inarguably present. My degree was not in English or anything particularly creative, so I suppose they had a point. Or did they?

These particular professors did not think that “conversational style” was the right approach for writing academic papers even though some of the best and well known academicians were wonderful writers who have been immortalised through their discoveries and conversational style writing. By conversational, I mean clear, accessible and enjoyable reading. (Stephen Jay Gould and Carl Sagan come to mind as two examples.)

That rigid, academic style of writing certainly has its place. However, if one is not careful, it is easy to get locked into a certain way of thinking about writing which may put a damper on any passion and create a sort of barrier to the creative juices flowing. You are constantly thinking, “is this word, sentence, paragraph impersonal observer and ‘third person’ enough or is there too much of me in it?” Almost always, there was a bit too much of me, meaning my personality, in it. I like to write in a way the conveys that I find the topic interesting, even if the reader might not.

Now, I am happy to have done the master’s degree as it was a completion of a long time ambition. But, I realised afterwards that perhaps there was something in that part of the process that went against my grain. To have to think in such a detached manner - especially for those of us who enjoy writing - sucks the soul into oblivion. We are involved. Sure, there is a place for the impersonal, but not in our writing or how we process information. We have to be personal in order for the connection to the world and our writing to have meaning.

And it got me thinking about what scientists and Dr Seuss have in common and what a lucky bunch they are. When scientists come across things for which there are no words, they get to make them up. When Stephen Jay Gould identified a phenomenon for the first time, he got to name it Punctuated Equilibrium. Even when there were words for what Dr Seuss wrote about, he still transformed them into something new that no one had ever heard of. For example, a thneed, which “everyone, everyone, everyone needs! “ And, nobody called these two writers in on the red carpet and told them off for colouring outside of the lines or bringing too much of their personality into the writing. That they did bring their personality and their take on the world was what has made them who they are.

I think there is a lesson here. Perhaps these internalised expectations (no matter where they come from) are at least some of the bricks that writers’ blocks are composed of. And, a key to breaking the blocks and cajoling creativity out of the box is to give your normal vocabulary a holiday. Experiment with new words and write about things that you do not normally write about. And, if you don’t know the word or words for what you want to say, just make them up. Of course, it may be a bit daring to publish writing with words you have made up. There again, it might just be the most supercalifragilisticexpialidocious thing you have ever done. And, no one suffered from that word being invented either.


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    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you for introducing yourself to me with your kind comment and for following me with fan mail! I am also now following you and look forward to reading your hubs.

    • elayne001 profile image

      Elayne 7 years ago from Rocky Mountains

      Congrats on the well-deserved nomination - seems you are way overqualified for a new hubber, but enjoyed reading your superb hub - we can learn much from you. Thanks.

    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you for your kind comments Lifeallstar1! I have always loved writing. It is so great to have a place like HubPages where we can support and encourage each other! I am so inspired by some of the really wonderful writers on here. If you have not read any of his hubs yet, De Greek is a wonderful writer and does a lot to point out some of the best writers he has found on here. Have a look at his hub here:

      I look forward to reading more of yours as well!

    • Lifeallstar1 profile image

      Lifeallstar1 8 years ago

      What a fun read!! Like ripplemaker said, The picture is very funny, when you think about the title. You have done such a great job in life and now here. To think you have your masters and you still feel like writing. Especially all those hubs in a short amount of time. I find myself reading so many hubs now. Many people have written such great ones. I can't wait to read more of yours!

    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hypnodude, thank you for stopping by, for the rate up and for your kind comments! :-)

    • hypnodude profile image

      Andrew 8 years ago from Italy

      Beautiful hub, and congrats for your Master degree. I dig your writing style btw. Rated up! :)

    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you Feline Prophet!

    • profile image

      Feline Prophet 8 years ago

      As a once-upon-a-time-journalist I know how hard it is to remain detached, especially when you're writing something that means something to you. Hope you enjoy your Hub Pages experience...and that it's truly liberating! :)

    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi my changes, thank you for your kind comments. And, welcome to HubPages! I saw that you have just joined! It's a lot of fun and a great community!

    • profile image

      my changes 8 years ago

      Thank you for sharing ..Good staff! made me to be darawn in..looking forward to reading more of you..

    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Duchess OBlunt (Love that name!) and Money Glitch, thank you for stopping by and reading and for your comments.

      Duchess OBlunt, "Hubnugget material" - another new phrase that is destined to become part of mainstream language. It's a great descriptor and something to inspire to! I wonder how long before it makes it into the dictionary.

      Money Glitch, congrats on getting your master's!

    • Money Glitch profile image

      Money Glitch 8 years ago from Texas

      I like your thoughts about academic writing. I got my master's last year so this hub brought back those memories. And yes it does feel like you are on vacation now that one does not have to conform to that norm any longer. Congrats on being selected to this week's HubNuggets Wannabe nominees. Good Luck! :)

    • profile image

      Duchess OBlunt 8 years ago

      I enjoyed this article very much and happy it was recognized as hubnugget material. And might I just add that while llmartin might say she struggles with active writing, she does a wonderful job of it.

      Congratulations on your degree, and on your nomination. You have my vote.

    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you llmartin, Pamela and Ripplemaker for stopping by and for your comments.

      llmartin, you are amazing to have survived so many years of that impersonal style of communication and to write as beautifully as you do! I believe that, ultimately, your true voice and writing spirit cannot be squelched. It just needs a little resuscitation after being suffocated here and there.

      Ripplemaker, I did not know I was Hubnugget Wannabe. Wow! This is very surprising and I feel very honoured and amazed to have been nominated. Thank you for letting me know! I am very happy to have found HubPages and am immensely enjoying the lovely community of kindred spirits who all share a passion for writing.

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Hi M Selvey, I confess I have this part of my brain that "criticizes" my way of wording words - they are so simple. I feel sometimes they become so plain and lack luster. Now I tell that voice to shut up for it blocks my creativity in a big way. Hahahahaha And there I go writing and allowing my heart to speak. Works wonderfully for me. :)

      Immartin's comment made me grin too; and I also wanted to tell you that your catchy title made me imagine the words with luggages and riding the bus on the way to the airport and that made me really laugh out loud.

      My imagination is running tee hee...okay before I run away with it let me just announce that you are a Hubnugget Wannabe! Yes, your hub has been nominated.

      Go check it out: Don't forget to vote please.

      Participate in the Hubnuggets forum:

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 8 years ago from United States

      Congratulations on your degree and I enjoyed your hub.

    • lmmartin profile image

      lmmartin 8 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      If you think academic writing is dull and pedantic, try spending 15 years writing audit reports and internal control and management reports. Passive language to the extreme! "The financial statements for the fiscal year were audited, and tests in accordance with the Generally Accepted Principle of Accounting were performed ...' presumably by the audit elves. Takes a bit to get that out of your system and back to writing active, emotional writing.

    • barryrutherford profile image

      Barry Rutherford 8 years ago from Queensland Australia

      good stuff great read !

    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you kimh039 and hubpageswriter for reading and for your comments!

    • profile image

      hubpageswriter 8 years ago

      I'd like to say welcome to Hubpages.. and hope you will be able to contribute more great hubs like this one in future. Congrats for completing your Master's Degree.

    • kimh039 profile image

      Kim Harris 8 years ago

      What a fun read! You drew me in and kept my attention. Not an easy task. Then, thanks to MFB, even the comments were fun.....he's MF'ing Brilliant!

    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 8 years ago from United Kingdom

      MFB, haha! Ta very much. You've bifambished it, completely! It’s about nerbricking the alleymonsters that malstonish and babblesnip the creative stimbolurk! Nobody wants their stimbolurk to be babblesnipped. Very unpleasant.

    • MFB III profile image

      MFB III 8 years ago from United States

      Impeccafabulous, Positizing and wonderlicious advice. When one goes beyond the whackademic and simply applies the

      conver-sens-sational tones to their work writers blocks will become foundations to build on....Superbodacious hub~~~~MFB III

    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you for reading and your comment, Story Plot.

    • profile image

      Story Plot 8 years ago

      An interesting Hub and a good start to your online writing career. I enjoyed reading- thanks for sharing your experience.

    • M Selvey, MSc profile image

      M Selvey, MSc 8 years ago from United Kingdom

      Thank you, Lisa, for your kind comments and for being a follower. I was just reading your hub and hope that you will keep writing, you have an amazing story!

    • lisa brazeau profile image

      lisa brazeau 8 years ago from Canada

      Wonderful piece, and congrats on your degree. You have so much to offer!


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