Beating Blank Brain Syndrome

Mar 21, 2014 | Posted by the IEW Blog Team

Writer’s block. Blank page syndrome. Blank brain syndrome. Sound familiar? You remember the feeling – you have a big paper due in a few days that you haven’t even started yet, you sit down to write, and you end up staring blankly at the computer screen with rising feelings of panic as time ticks on. Or what about trying to help your student with a paper when the ideas just aren’t flowing? “I can’t think of anything to write, Mom! I can’t do it!”

This was me today – I knew I wanted to write a blog post before the weekend, but nothing was coming to me. And then I remembered a little trick from IEW – ask yourself questions! And suddenly the ideas began to flow:

Who am I writing for? My many close friends who homeschool and all the sweet teachers and homeschool moms I’ve talked with on the phone came to mind.

What do they struggle with? Helping their reluctant writers learn how to put words on paper.

What can I do to help? And thus a blog post was born.

If your student is in a class with an assignment due tomorrow, and they’re feeling too panicky to begin, you might need to employ a few tricks to get past the initial block. (Some fun ideas are given here.)

But if you are looking for a long-term solution, I’ve found the entire IEW approach to be a fantastic way to overcome this. As my dad explains in his article, “How to Think,” a key to helping students overcome writer’s block and learn how to think of what to write is this: teach them how to think by teaching them to ask questions of themselves in order to choose the content they will write about. Whether you are new to IEW, an IEW veteran, or just trying to figure out what to do with your child who hates writing, I encourage you to read the whole article!

Most helpful to me was understanding how the nine IEW units gradually move the student from having the content provided for him to the point where he will be able to “take notes from his brain” and come up with the content himself. Asking questions is a key component throughout.

A typical research paper falls somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, and the research process IEW teaches can be so relieving to students. Just the other week in the class I’m teaching, one of my students started the lesson with a look of panic on her face: “I don’t think I can do this assignment!” By the time we had worked through the process of taking notes from multiple sources and fusing the outlines into one (IEW Unit 6), she said with total confidence, “I know just how to do this now.”

Does this mean writing will always be easy for someone who’s been through IEW? No. The process of writing – and thinking – sometimes takes hard work, and hard work is…well…hard! But does it make it possible? Yes. After all, even a writing teacher’s daughter can get writer’s block. But a few simple ideas can make all the difference in overcoming it.

What are your favorite tips for helping your students overcome writer's block? You can share in the comments below!


When she was ten years old, Genevieve (Pudewa) Priest attended the first writing class her dad had ever taught. Little did they know then that IEW would grow from that seedling into a company serving homeschoolers and schools around the world! Having taught in Montessori schools, homeschooled a younger sibling, and taught IEW writing to homeschool students, she enjoys being able to offer support and encouragement to parents, teachers, and students in their educational journey.


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