Writer’s Block? Try The Gadfly Method

By Katie King 

How To Channel the Gadfly.

Experiencing Writer’s Block? Need a Disruptor?

Then Bite In. 


Before sitting down to write, address the following questions: 

  1. What’s a “big” question about the text that interests you and why?
  2. In order to answer that question, what are 3-5 questions you need to address FIRST in order to answer your topic question?
  3. How do you answer your “ big” question?
  4. Think about your readers. Arrange your questions in a way that would answer questions they might have. 


What is the Gadfly Method?

Dubbed “The Gadfly” thanks to Karl Schudt’s inaugural piece “I met Socrates the other day”, this method is intended to help you in the pre-stages of writing, or as a jumping-off point for a potential blog post.

The whole premise of the Gadfly Method is that you will dig into the text by asking questions to, and answering questions from, the particular philosopher/author in the form of an imagined dialogue. Your dialogue will be similar to a Platonic dialogue in that it will have a setting, participants (you and the author), an occasion that brings them together, and a back-and-forth interaction that serves as an idealized representation of a face-to-face discussion. 

In this case, imagine yourself in a likely scenario with the particular author and find out more about the 3-5 most important ideas from the reading.  Remember, it can be from just a selection in a larger text.

Taking the reading and your response out of the familiar analysis/response form and putting it into a (probably) unfamiliar dialogue form helps you wrestle with ideas. It’s a lot more fun, too!

Advice and Help

  • Focus the dialogue on the most important questions from the particular reading. So, deciding on those issues will be your most important initial task. Make sure you re-engage with the text. Writing a dialogue can be fun, but the dialogue form won’t cover up a lack of close familiarity with the source material or a lack of focus. 
  • Use the occasion and the back-and-forth to have a mutually worthwhile intellectual exchange between you and the author on the ideas and claims in the particular reading. Treat both yourself and the author with respect, as equals. Don’t make anyone look like a jerk or a dummy. Nobody should “win” the dialogue, though a lively give-and-take and strongly held positions are encouraged. Forced epiphanies and Hollywood endings won’t work either.
  • Format your writing in a way that you and the author can ask and answer. It’s not like, say, court testimony, where the lawyer does all the asking and the witness does all the answering.
  • Your dialogue does not have to be a conversation-stopper or “settle” the questions you discuss with the author. Honestly, it would be boring if it did. Rather, look to develop a dialogue that shows you and the author grappling with the one or two most important questions from the reading to reach at least a provisionally better understanding. 
  • Some possible questions to be worked in include the always-relevant “Why is that important?” and “What are the implications of that?” (So what and Where do we go from here?). Some other productive questions and types of questions can be found at this helpful link. 


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