The Terror of the Blank Page

blank page

Last night as I watched The Walking Dead I would cycle back and forth during commercials to view the Oscar ceremonies.  One phrase stood out to me as I was doing this, and it was what was said by the announcer right before Quentin Tarantino was awarded an Oscar for best original screenplay.  The announcer said in so many words that one thing that is difficult in this age is to write something original, that sparks the imagination of the viewer and comments on our fellow man.  I would say that the terror of the blank page is something that has plagued me sometimes, mostly on days when I want to write 1000 words but nothing comes out.  I stare at the blank computer screen even though I have written a detailed outline and the words don’t come to me.

In situations like this I have several tricks that I play on myself to get through the brick wall of writing the first few paragraphs.  Here they are:

  1. Take a Walk – We live on a 5 acre plot that is bordered by my father-in-law’s land.  My father-in-law has an ATV and has cut miles of trails through the woods.  Sometimes when my mind spins its wheels in the snow of the blank page I go for a walk in the woods alone and as I walk the silence of the forest usually causes my creative juices to flow and then I have to race back to the house to hammer out the opening lines.
  2. Don’t Erase – If something comes out that isn’t the most desirable text, do not erase it and start over.  Just go with it.  At least something is on the page.  You can always come back and edit it later.  Avoid writing three or four sentences and then immediately erasing it and starting over.  This is an endless trap.
  3. Read a Book – Some of my best inspiration has come from reading great books.  I’m not condoning plagiarism by any means, but sometimes when I read great writing it inspires me to write great lines.  It doesn’t even have to be great writing, just writing that inspires you.  Keep a few books around that you love to read again and again.
  4. Blog – Blogging is a great way to get the creative juices flowing.  I usually blog every day whether I want to or not.  Today’s blog was inspired by something I saw on television last night.  It is almost like the finger exercises a guitarist uses right before playing a song.  Some of us (like me) need a warmup for our creative muse.  Blogging is great for that even if no one reads it.  It also makes writers accountable.
  5. Set a Deadline – Sometimes what we writers need is pressure.  Some of the writers who are reading this right now are working on real deadlines set by your publisher and yet others of you are indie writers who write without deadlines.  I say set a deadline for yourself if you are an indie writer.  Get an accountability partner who is expecting you to create something by a certain date.  That accountability partner should be someone you see every day and who is willing to remind you to write.
  6. Sleep On It – I’m one of those people who do their best to go to sleep at night but have a brain that goes into overdrive at about that time.  I don’t know how many times I have gone to bed and then had to jump right back up, grab my notebook and then jot down the ideas that flow out of my noggin.  If this is you, then use it.
  7. Lists – If I get stuck, I sit down and start listing everything I know about the opening scene I am trying to write.  This non-linear mode of thinking then sparks my brain to come up with a few words and sentences I can use to begin.
  8. Talk It Out – Last night I sat with my mother and had a good visit at her home.  She always likes to hear about my new projects, and I was filling her in about the plot, and then confessed that I did not know how I would go about ending it.  As I told her the details of the plot, I created elements of the story that filled in several gaps as well as finding a way to work out the ending.  I then listened to her thoughts about it, and through that conversation now have a definite direction for where the novel will go.

If you would like to add to this list, please post your suggestions below.  I’m sure we can all use a few pointers about avoiding the terror of the blank page.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

6 thoughts on “The Terror of the Blank Page

  1. I think of the blank page as a wonderful landscape that allows me the freedom to go whereever I want and color it in any way I like. And if I walk in circles there for a while or just stand and stare, it will still take me somewhere. No pressure, just plenty of places to go. What luxury.

  2. Mountain biking. Usually putting the instinctive part of my brain up front allows the creative part to go to work in the background. Failing that (and only if theres no one about…) I talk to myself – pretending to interview myself seems to work occasionally. I’m trying hard not to analyse that one too much…

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