“You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” (Jodie Piccoult)
It can be tough settling down to work, but there is nothing worse, as a writer, than settling down to write, then realising that you don’t know what you want to say. Facing a blank screen or blank page is almost guaranteeing that your brain will go blank too!
When I was young, there was something enjoyable at school about turning over a fresh new page to write on. I used my best handwriting, carefully drew the curliest ‘y’s and ‘g’s and tried to make sure that my work looked good. As a writer, there have been times when I have found myself with a little valued writing time, opened up a document and – nothing! All words have left me and it can feel very frustrating!
So why do writers put this pressure on ourselves? Why do we panic when faced with a blank page and what can we do about it?
There may be a few reasons why we freeze:
- we genuinely don’t know where we want to go next in our writing
- we are starting a new project but don’t know where to start
- we need to do some research before we start writing
- some other reason
Where do I go next in my writing?
You’ve opened up a blank document, but you really haven’t a clue where to continue on with your writing. How can you find a way around this and use your writing time productively? A good idea can be to always leave your work at a point where you have an idea where it is going to go next. So you are writing a story where the main character is going to visit her friend and chat about the leading love interest. If you leave your story where the main character knocks on the door of her friend, then you have something to start writing about straight away when you come back to your work. If however, you finish work at the end of a chapter, then it can be harder to come back in to a completely new one.
Similarly, if you are writing an article, try to write down some planning and research points rather than just plunging into the first paragraph. Of course, if a great idea for the first paragraph comes to you, then write it down, but if you normally find it hard to get going, then it is best to anticipate this and make sure that you are able to write something down. Often just getting going is a good way to overcome the blank page.
Starting a new project
Sometimes you want to start a new project, but you don’t know where to begin. You might have fragments of a story in mind, you could have an idea for a new blog post or you may have found a great title that you want to use in a piece of writing. The idea is sketchy and you are unsure where to go next with it.
Again, the trick is to release the pressure on yourself. No one is able to write a perfect first draft, so don’t worry if it’s a bit rough. Write notes, sketch out some characters or interview them, write some outlines, play with the concept. For blog posts, you can check out what other writers have written on the subject, to get some width on the subject, play with the title and list out the points you want to make. Try to always have something on the page, even if it eventually gets deleted.
Need to do some research
Some writers just go straight into a piece of writing, then they come up against a blocking point where they need to research in order to finish it. As a writer, you could look at the positive side – at least you wrote something down and are not faced with a blank piece of paper! By all means, go and find the answer to your question in a text book or search engine. Your work will be waiting for you when you come back. Sometimes it takes longer than you think to find the answer to something, so before you leave your work, write down some markers so that when you come back to it, you will be able to pick up your thought thread. Nothing worse than coming back to a piece of work, only to realise that you have absolutely no idea what you were going on about. Almost worse than that blank piece of paper!
Insert your own reason here – for whatever reason, you find yourself facing a blank document with the blank brain to match. However, if you’ve been smart and paying and attention, you will have realised that this doesn’t need to be the case! You can leave yourself notes, character sketches, research notes and references or anything else that will help you pick up the work when you come back. If you are writing whole blog posts, then decide what the next topic is going to be and leave a title on a piece of paper along with a couple of references to remember where you planned to go next.
There is no need for a writer to be afraid of that blank piece of paper. It is just a blank page, waiting to be written on. If you find beginnings hard, then always start your beginning before ending your work for the night. Then you should always be able to spend that unexpected but welcome piece of writing time, productively.