We are all too familiar with that blinking cursor in an empty word document. There is honestly not a worst sight in the world. The blinking is almost mocking you-a constant reminder that you are devoid of any intelligent or creative ideas.

Ideas. So much of college is ideas. Working on a project, writing a paper, and studying for a test all involve stringing together concepts into cohesive ideas, and professors can detect a good idea from a bad or lazy idea. But, where do ideas come from? That isn’t a skill someone can teach you. Ideas often hit us out of the blue or wake us up in the middle of a dream. There’s no clear way of coming up with one. Some people need weeks to develop an idea and others thrive off of the last minute crunch before an assignment is due. No matter what your ritual is for seemingly catching an idea out of the air, a simple piece of advice my high school English teacher will help: “Always think with a pen in your hand.” She would always add, “You aren’t thinking if you aren’t writing.”

At the time, I didn’t totally agree with what she was saying. After all, we are all thinking all the time, so why would holding a pen make a difference? However, after being in college for three years now, I dawn on that piece advice more than anything. When struggling to formulate a thesis (whether for an academic paper or an artistic project), I hear a little voice in my head: “You aren’t thinking if you aren’t writing.”

Gosh, she was so right…

Computers are the gateway into distraction. After the glaring white document and blinking cursor give you a headache and sense of failure, Netflix, Facebook, and an unnecessary five refreshes of your email are there to save you from your misery. But ideas don’t work well when paired with distraction.

How should you combat this lack of inspiration? Close the computer, get out a sheet of paper, and think with a pen in your hand.  Draw one of those spider webs to connect your thoughts, write a rough thesis, cross it out, edit it, tweak it again, and then write a solid and creative introduction.

Then, after you have your introduction and thesis crafted in pen, open up your laptop and begin typing what you’ve written. Use the momentum of typing quickly to guide you into the rest of your paper.

Our minds don’t think in clean, 12pt. Times New Roman font. Connections we create are chaotic, jumbled, and passionate. Look down at your sheet of paper covered in pen. It better be messy. The messier the piece of paper, the more passionate you are about the topic-an indicator of a good topic. Messy is okay. Messy is writing in pen. Messy is thinking.