Blank Page Syndrome
“When you open up a blank document and either forget what you were going to write or cannot start writing because there are no words on the page”.
Blank page syndrome has happened to most all of us. When it happens it can be extremely frustrating. You sit there motionless and your mind just goes blank. There you are, a solid clean white page right in front of you and you cannot think of anything to write. Or, you have so much to write that you cannot decide where to start. Been there, done that! So, what are the causes of this syndrome, and what can you do to overcome it? One cause can be that you have not built out your outline or writing plan as detailed as you need it to be. Go back and review your outline and make any adjustments that are required to help organize your thoughts and what comes next. Having a writing plan completed that you can reference is very important. It will help overcome blank page syndrome, and improve the flow of your writing. This will help to overcome the decision of what to write next. Another cause can be that you are not in the correct mindset. Clear your mind of noise and make sure your environment is free of distractions. Maybe your attention is getting pulled away by what’s going on around you. Make sure that your complete attention is on the task at hand. Put on noise-cancelling headphones, or find a quiet place where you can concentrate. Now, if you have done all of that and you still cannot begin to write, just start writing anything. Doesn’t matter what it is; it could be a recipe for chili, just start writing. Doing this will almost always get the creative juices flowing and you can get back on task and complete the work that you had planned. Another way to get in the proper mindset is to pick up a book and start reading. This gets your brain thinking about words and plot and sentence structure that really helps to pull those ideas out of your brain and on to the paper. There have been times where I start reading and a whole chapter of my book comes into focus. I immediately put the book down and start writing. If I get blocked again, I set it aside and read some more. Works for me every time. I just wanted to share a brief post to try and help some folks overcome that horrible blank page issue. I hope this has helped, and good writing!
Here are some additional tools, complements of www.lifehack.org.
Here are ten tricks that will help you get past your blank page paralysis and into the good stuff.
- Start in the middle: Forget the introduction, and jump straight into whatever part you feel comfortable writing. Most of the time, the introduction is the weakest part of the finished product anyway, because we sharpen our thoughts as we write. Go back at the end and write an introduction. Or don’t — a lot of times, you’ll find that your non-introduction turns out to be a pretty good introduction.
- Write to someone you know: A lot of time we get all caught up in trying to write something for “everybody”. Find a voice by imagining you’re writing to someone you know — a friend, a family member, your 10th grade English teacher, the guy you hate in accounting — and writing in a way that they would understand. You can even start with “Dear Margaret, I’m writing to tell you about the amazing new product my company is introducing” or whatever — you’ll go back and delete that later.
- “Outline-expand-expand-done”: Forget writing straight through. Just write an outline. Then, go back and flesh it out a little, adding a sentence here, a paragraph there. Do that again, also focusing on how one part fits into the next. Repeat as necessary until you’re done.
- Write backwards: Skip to the end. What do you want your reader to take away from the piece? OK, write that. What’s the last thing they should understand in order to take that away? Skip to the top and write that. Keep working backwards through the document until you reach a logical beginning place, then write your introduction. Then go through front-to-back and clean it up.
- Tell a story: You don’t have to write a document that answers all life’s questions or applies universally. Narrow it down by writing a story. Who are the main players? What do.did they do? What is the conflict? Write “Once upon a time, there were…” and work into your topic. “Once upon a time, there was a young man who didn’t know how best to clean and polish his household silver…” Yeah, it’s stupid, but you’ll end up with a lot of language you can use — go through and cut out the story part and see what’s left.
- Free-write/free-talk: Write gibberish. Or get a recorder and talk gibberish. Just throw out words until something starts to make sense. Free associate — writing howto typing people writers… Keep writing whatever comes to mind — what you want for breakfast, how stupid free writing is, who you hate most — for a set period of time (5 minutes is good) or until the page is good and gunked up, then write a line relating to your topic. Write another. Go ahead and write a third. Feels ok, right? Write two more — hey, that’s starting to look like a paragraph! Keep going until you’re done, then go back and delete all the garbage.
- Use a pen and paper: Change things up! Step away from the keyboard, grab a pen and some paper (steal from the printer’s tray if you don’t have any blank paper around) and write longhand. Better yet, get yourself a nice fountain pen or some other fancy pen, and some really classy paper — something that makes you want to write just for the feel of ink flowing onto paper. Or use a crappy pencil, I don’t care. It’s not like I have stock in any pen companies or anything. The point is, shift yourself into another mindset and see if that doesn’t help you.
- Change location: Instead of shifting your medium, shift your location — head out to a coffeeshop, library, biker bar, anywhere new to shake things up. We’ll grow to associate places where frustration occurs with the frustration itself — change your place, change the frustration.
- Read: I read books on writing and they never fail to fire me up, but read anything. Get your head into “language” mode, seeing and thinking in print. Let your mind wander away from your obsessive worrying about your writing, and 9 times out of 10, the ideas will just suddenly click into place. Run back to your computer and write them down and see where that takes you.
- Set short goals: A lot of times we get hung up on how long it’s going to take us to finish — so hung up, we can’t even start. So do this: set a timer for 3 minutes, and see how much you can write in three minutes. Write gibberish if you must, but if you can, stay focused and know that you can quit in 3 minutes. Or try writing just 5 sentences. Give yourself trivially easy goals that you can quickly accomplish, and see what happens. A lot of times, you’ll catch a groove even in those couple minutes and be able to keep on going until you’re done.
Once you get over the initial hump of just getting started, you’ll usually find that the words just start coming. They might not be the best words or even vaguely rightwords, but they’re words — let them come, then hunt them down mercilessly when you revise and edit.
Fantastic post. Really enjoyed reading it and it held my attention all the way through! Keep it up.
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