Need more help conquering that notorious writing bugaboo, the blank page? In an earlier post, I shared some unconventional yet effective strategies to beat the blank-page blues and get the words down, even when that expansive whiteness is at its most intimidating.
Still need more tips? You’re in luck.
I give you:
The unique way caffeine acts on your brain has been documented on this blog and many others. The gist of it is that caffeine blocks your body’s way of telling itself that it’s tired. When that happens, your body not only fails to perceive fatigue, but it actually releases adrenaline and increases its receptivity to the neurotransmitter dopamine (one of the brain’s feel-good chemicals). This sudden influx of neurotransmitters promotes risk-taking and, in most people, heightens the mood and speeds up a few of the mind’s cognitive processes.
Translation? Coffee makes you more willing to tackle difficult things, like blank pages, and take more risks (the key to a great opening line). Bonus: Coffee makes you do all these things much more quickly. It’s like ripping off a Band-Aid instead of peeling it slowly and painfully.
Humiliate yourself Try something new, like Zumba.
There are few things I find more frightening and fraught with embarrassment potential than dancing in front of people. No matter the event—weddings, parties, what-have-you—I require a long acclimation time, plus several alcoholic beverages, to do anything more adventurous or dance-like than a side-shuffle (think: Will Smith’s advice to Kevin James in Hitch). There’s literally nothing I find more humiliating than that.
And that’s exactly my point. Try something slightly embarrassing, preferably from the comfort of your own home (like doing a Wii Zumba routine or an exercise video with the shades open). Then sit down, having burned a calorie or two, and face that blank page again. Feel something? That twinge of confidence means you’ve barreled past that fear of the blank page, having just gratuitously humiliated yourself trying to do power yoga with Jillian Michaels or have a dance party in front of the Zumba game on the TV.
The problem: The page is blank and intimidating in its vastness of possibility.
The solution: Drastically narrow the possibilities, so you have a framework in which to create.
How to do it: Write random words. Open a dictionary and write down the first 15 words you see in order. That’s nonsense. But it’s also stuff on the page. Maybe you’ll use one or two of the words you dig up. Maybe you’ll learn a new word, like extemporaneous. If you’re still intimidated, keep on with the dictionary until you can finally begin to write real sentences. Delete the nonsense words later.
1. Realize that a blank page is no different than a full page; it’s just a little bit whiter (or beige…er).
Blank pages are intimidating precisely because they’re unpredictable. They’re hard to live up to. It’s hard the narrow down the endless possibilities they represent. But the problem, really, is you (and me, but mostly you).
The crisis of confidence and focus produced by confronting a blank page is all about the impossible expectations we heap on ourselves as artists and creators. We all want every stroke on the page to count, every paragraph to look like genius. It’s hard and exhausting to start writing words on a blank page when you know that in the process of revision you might dump everything you’ve written on it. And then you’ve wasted a day.
Except you haven’t.
My recently published essay, “Writing by Ear,” went live on Women Writers, Women Books last month. For a measly 948 words, I spent three weeks writing and trashing and writing and trashing drafts. I deleted endless paragraphs. I started over seven times. Seven times. Seven freaking times. The problem wasn’t the blank page. In fact, there was no problem. That was just the amount of work required to fish out that idea and get it on the page.
I faced the blank page 8 times. And honestly?
It’s okay. I’m fine. I wasn’t permanently scarred by the experience, and the end product was a much better one for all of the effort.
What are your blank page strategies? Share them in the comments!