There’s nothing like a looming deadline to get you motivated. You’ve cleaned the house, done the laundry, and reorganized your bookshelf – the problem is, you haven’t written a single word.
You know the clock is ticking, but you just can’t find the right words. Motivation is slipping away and inspiration is nowhere to be found.
If fear of a blank page haunts your dreams, you’re not alone. A blank page means nothing done. It’s an empty space waiting for big ideas – and right now, you don’t seem to have any.
Well, it’s time to overcome that anxiety. Here are a few methods to unleash your creativity, so you never hesitate to put pen to paper.
Before you become a great writer, be a prolific reader.
You may love reading for pleasure, but as a writer, take it one step further. Study the construction of sentences, choice of words, and structure. Read poems, essays, newspapers, blogs, song lyrics and advertisements, from the brilliant to the terrible.
You’ll come to understand how the author’s every choice impacts your journey as a reader.
Notice how words make you feel and what images they conjure up. What are the ingredients of a page-turning thriller? Why do you get absorbed in a blog, unable to close the tab?
If you don’t know where to begin, take a glance at the first sentence of a piece of writing you love. Has the author set the scene with speech, a quote, a reflection on the past, or a vivid description?
Experiment with different ideas and see what happens.
Design Your Ideal Space
Getting your environment in order is half the battle. Designate an area as a work space, and make sure it’s clean, tidy and peaceful.
Important tasks weighing on your mind can distract you, but that doesn’t mean you must have a spotless house and finish all chores in advance. To avoid procrastination, write down any urgent tasks on a to-do list. Give yourself permission to dismiss them from your head, for now. You’ll revisit them later.
When you settle in for a session, get a glass of water or hot drink, and minimize distractions – consider putting your phone on silent and turning off all notifications.
“When we clear the physical clutter from our lives, we literally make way for inspiration and 'good, orderly direction' to enter.” – Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
Who, What and Why
Define your target reader. That will give you direction, and guide your process.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Who are you writing for?
- Why would they read your work?
- How can you help them achieve their goal?
- What do you want them to do?
- How do you want them to feel?
Perhaps you're communicating with job-seekers, teaching them how to enhance their résumé. Thanks to you, they will feel more confident in applying for jobs and improve their chances of securing an interview.
This advice also applies to fiction. You want to offer your target audience enjoyment, insight, and evoke different emotions as they read.
When you have answers to all the above questions, you’re finally ready to start filling that blank page.
Inspiration is Unreliable
If you’ve seen the Bohemian Rhapsody movie, you might remember a wonderful scene that captures the magic of inspiration.
It’s a misty English morning, and a young Freddie Mercury gazes out on the tranquil countryside. He detects a faint melody among the birdsong and it compels him to sit down at the piano, where he bashes out the record-breaking Queen classic.
Inspiration is real and sometimes it results in a masterpiece. However, the real superpower is getting on with the job, even when it’s the last thing you feel like doing.
Most days, you won’t be feeling inspired, but don’t let that hold you back.
“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” – Stephen King
Try the exposure method when it comes to defeating your fear. That means you confront a blank page every day, and fill it without a second thought.
A lot of self-help and productivity coaches talk about morning pages. The term was coined by Julia Cameron, who explains the practice in her book, The Artist’s Way.
The concept is to fill three pages with a handwritten stream of consciousness, every morning. You transcribe all your thoughts, holding nothing back. She stipulates that the pages must be kept private, so you can be truly honest.
It should be the first thing you do, before the rest of the world has had a chance to influence you. It’s a superb way to clear your thoughts and focus your attention at the beginning of the day, with the added benefit of training you to write without hesitation.
If it becomes a habit, over time you’ll find it so normal to just dive right in and it will no longer seem like such a daunting task.
Peter Elbow, English professor and author of Writing Without Teachers, is a pioneer of the freewriting technique. Elbow recommends that before starting any project, you should write non-stop for a set amount of time, completely uncensored and without overthinking or correcting anything.
This is similar to your morning pages, but the key difference here is that now you focus your freewriting on the topic at hand.
Simply write the title or topic at the top of the page and write whatever comes to mind, steering yourself back any time you go off on a tangent.
You must not let your inner editor get involved yet.
I know you want every sentence to be profound. This is a major stumbling block for many writers – we critique ourselves too harshly, too soon. We’re afraid of saying something stupid, so instead, we get stuck staring at the blank page.
Ditch the perfectionism, and let your imagination flow without judgement.
Beginnings are hard, because it’s crucial to hook readers immediately.
Let’s say you’re writing an article entitled “10 Ways to Improve Your Daily Routine”. You know what some of those tips will be, but you’ve got no clue how to construct a snappy introduction. Well, start with what you do know, and fill in the gaps after.
Similarly, if you’ve already decided on a character, a scene or moment in a story, go ahead and write it first. You can figure out how to connect the dots later.
It doesn't matter where you begin – only that you do. You’ll find a way to piece it all together.
You’ve dumped all your thoughts on the page in a frenzy. The excellent news is, the page is no longer blank. You’re nowhere near finished though, as there’s still a lot of researching, structuring, revising and editing to do.
Now is the perfect time to take a break. Go for a walk in the park or make a cup of tea, because it’s essential that you let your brain rest.
Ask yourself questions related to the topic, but don’t rack your brain for the answers – just give yourself the space to ruminate.
Try alternating intense sprints (30–40 minutes of full concentration) with brief periods of quiet reflection.
Sometimes, a change is as good as a rest. Every so often, swap your laptop for a pen and paper, or your regular desk at home for a cozy coffee shop. Different surroundings can unlock new ideas and prevent your thoughts from becoming stale.
Be an Observer
When you’re not at your desk, look out for inspiration in your everyday life.
Chatting with friends and listening to conversations that happen around you can be an amazing source of ideas.
Carry a notebook around and jot down snippets of interesting conversations, or intriguing details you see.
If you ever feel lost for words, like you have nothing to say, a chat with a friend or family member might provide a new perspective. Similarly, conversing with an expert or someone with first-hand experience could prove invaluable.
Don’t underestimate how much you can learn by listening, asking questions and staying curious.
“Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” – Bill Nye
Seize the Opportunity
Using these tips and tricks, you can push through that familiar fear the next time you find yourself up against the dreaded blank page.
By doing the preparation, honing your craft with plenty of reading and practice, and asking and answering the key questions, you’ll hit the ground running when the moment arrives.
Resist the urge to judge, criticize and edit – there are no bad ideas in the beginning.
Every blank page is like a brand new day – a fresh opportunity for you to create something valuable, new and original.
So conquer your fear and make the first mark. It’s not that scary, I promise.