How to Beat the Blank Page and Write

We’ve all been there.

You sit down after a long day. You’re tired, but you made it. Your kids are at a sitter, or your dishes are getting ignored in the sink, or you’ve finally gotten off social media. You’re ready to write.

And then: nothing. Absolutely nothing. All of those brilliant ideas for your manuscript, blog post, article, or what-have-you are gone.

The screen is blank.

You glance at the clock. You’re down to fifty minutes of precious writing time before you have to get on to the next task, because you write in the margins. You don’t have the luxury of trying to wait for the muse. You have to get content onto paper NOW.

All of those thoughts only make you freeze up more. You decide to go on a walk. All you feel is relief that you’re away from your computer. Divine inspiration? Not there.

What about online writing gurus and experts? Surely they have an idea? You hop online just for a second, just to scroll through a few blogs and websites of successful writing experts and authors.

Man, these people look way more put-together than you. Look at those shiny websites! Even their posts look awesome. And who did those book covers? Yikes! How are they that famous that quickly? Is this normal? What are you even doing?

Maybe you’re not cut out for this. The doubts churn in your stomach.

Thirty minutes gone. What? No. How did time go so fast? This is not fair. Okay, focus. Gotta get this done. Otherwise, you won’t have any time until tomorrow. Professionals work best under deadlines, right? And you’re a professional. You’re making time. You’re doing things the right way.

The blank screen still looms large. You have nothing.

Maybe you are nothing. What’s the point? Clearly, others are doing this all the time. Let them do it. You can binge watch TV or scroll Pinterest.

What does it matter anyway?

I’ve been there. As one of those crazy writing-in-the-margins types, I know what it feels like to scrape away at that time, while wondering if it’s worth it. To fight for those hours and minutes and hope they add up to something meaningful to put out there to readers.

Good news: they do!
Bad news: only if you get actual words on the page.

And we’re back to that grand question of: HOW?

 

how to beat the blank page and write

 

1.) Remember your push
Write down the reasons Why YOU write, why your words matter, where you came from, what’s your story. Have these reason sticky-noted on your computer desktop. Get some writing partners who are there just to encourage you to keep going. Much is made of critique partners, but I’m a personal fan of the writing cheerleaders for the drafting process. Sometimes you don’t need feedback. You just need someone who believes in you, no matter what.

2.) Allow yourself to relax
Put on some music. Give yourself a little time to scroll your favorite Pinterest boards or research some new concepts. It isn’t wasting time, especially if that research is fueling your thoughts. Better fifteen minutes of solid writing than an hour of trying to stare at the screen without inspiration.

3.) Let your mind wander
Daydreaming is underrated. Humans are not, in fact, content machines. Eventually, we all give out. Take a bit of time to pray. Meditate. Breathe deeply. Do whatever you need to center yourself and clear out any issues from the day. If you’re having to write at a public place, put in earbuds to make your own inner space.

4.) Chase some plot bunnies
Got an idea you just GOTTA explore, but it isn’t on topic, but you just can’t stop thinking about it? Take 5-10 minutes and write it out to clear your brain. This isn’t wasting time. This is helping you to focus. Enjoy. Let yourself have fun and expand your creativity!

5.) Manage your environment
Earbuds are your friend. So is your favorite beverage or treat. Do whatever you need to get yourself in the mood, even if it feels weird or people don’t ‘get it.’ I tend to get bored with one location, so in college I was the Migratory Studier. I used to study one subject in the library, another subject in a friend’s dorm room, and a third subject in the girl’s bathroom in the student center (they had the comfiest couch there). Yeah, it was odd, but it worked for me, and it wasn’t making anyone else’s life difficult (actually got into some fun conversations in the bathroom).

6.) Accept that your process is different from everyone else’s
Process-development is discussed more in the visual arts field, but we writers need it just as much to free us from the pressure of perfection. You will never write exactly like your favorite writing expert. And you don’t have to. Even if it seems like they are succeeding out the wazoo, and if you just listen to their every thought and follow their every step, your life will get better. Learn what works for you, develop it more, take bits and pieces from others, and never be afraid to say “you know what, that method might have made you write five best-sellers, but it doesn’t work for me. And that’s okay, because we’re different people who have different brains and lifestyles. I will keep trying until I figure out me and make it work.”

7.) Accept that your work won’t be perfect
Stay away from books or blog posts or articles that make you insecure about your own writing. The authors wrote those books, blog posts, and articles, edited them, and proofread them. Trying to compare your drafting to their finished, polished work is comparing a mixing bowl of brownie batter to a fully-baked pan of brownies.
And give yourself some credit. Call in cheerleaders to point out where your drafting is excelling. Because brownie batter can taste darn delicious by itself.

8.) Give yourself a day off. Yes, I mean it.
Consistency is celebrated in the writing and content-creation community. But seriously. People get sick. Life happens. Yes, if you have a deadline, you gotta buckle down and meet it. But days of rest are necessary for health and wellness. Better you take some time off, recharge, and deal with life than continue forcing yourself to try and create when It. Isn’t. Working. The world will not end. The internet won’t go anywhere (unless the zombie apocalypse happens, and then you have other problems to deal with). And you will be far more refreshed and ready to go. Concerned you won’t go back to writing? Call on your cheerleaders to hold you accountable and remember your Push.

Beating the blank page and writing can be a daily battle (or an every-other-day battle, or a weekend battle–call it a “whenever-you-have-time” battle!). But winning that battle is 100% worth it, because you are getting words out, having fun, and moving forward. And every step is worth it!

I love learning more about you! What’s an important part of your writing process? Got any other recommendations for solving Blank Screen Syndrome? Share in the comments!

7 People You Meet During NaNoWriMo

7-people

Greetings! To all of you in the thick of NaNoWriMo, here’s a little field report from what I’ve observed over the years I’ve either participated or observed this phenomenal, month-long event. I give you:

7 People You Meet During NaNoWriMo

1.) Word-Sprint Wizards – these dynamos are masterful at putting pedal to the metal in 30 minutes or less! When everyone else has 250 words after the 15 minutes is up, they have 500+! Bravo, wizards! You inspire the rest of us to keep going.

2.) Language Lyricist – they may not be the fastest writers, but when they post up snippets from their work-in-progress, the rest of us are in awe at the syntactical beauty. Lovely job! Reading your excerpts gives us beauty to appreciate, and encouragement to clean up our words after November.

3.) Awesome (Over)Achievers – it’s the end of week one and they’re at 40,000 words. These super-speedy writers leave our head spinning with their work ethic. Whether they’re trying to get out content really fast to have Thanksgiving Day free, or just doing a NaNoWriMo ultra-marathon, I say congratulations! Keep the finish line warm for the rest of us.

4.) Racing Rebels – whether writing fan-fiction, flash fiction, or any combination of non-traditional content, these writers are proud to follow their unique dreams to 50,000 words. High five, trail blazers! Write on.

5.) Manic Multitaskers – they work two full-time jobs, or have three kids, or are overseas serving on the mission field or military, or pulling double shifts as a nurse. Or any combination! These word masters are balancing a crazy amount of tasks and getting the job done (coffee must often be involved). Great hustle! We admire you for your dedication.

6.) Epic Editors – even though NaNoWriMo features their own editing month, you’ve chosen to make this one your time to shine and polish those words. Good for you! The rest of us will be in your shoes soon enough. Thanks for your word-smithing spirit!

7.) Chipper Cheerleaders – you’re not participating, but you have a friend/cousin/uncle/brother’s/former room-mate or some other sort of awesome relation participating, and you’re cheering them on! Thanks so much for the support. Writing is often a lonely gig, and we appreciate every bit of encouragement and enthusiasm you throw our way!

Can you think of any others? Please share!

Life as a Promiscuous Book Reader

(DISCLAIMER: the following does not apply to books I have committed to review. Those are my first priority and generally get finished quickly. The following does apply to books I check out on a whim from the library)).

I have a confession.

I am a promiscuous book reader.   I couldn’t commit to a single novel unless my life depended on it.  Even then, I’d have to be really sure that death was actually imminent.

I used to flatter myself that promiscuous reading was a sign of innate creativity and intelligence.  My mind just wasn’t ready to settle down to the humdrum realities of actually finishing something.   That would be too boring.  Too stifling.  Too…committed.

Yes, I have literature commitment issues.  Perhaps some of you have them too.   You go to the library to return one book, and come away with five (“just a few”) or ten (“I just couldn’t leave this one behind”) or even twenty (“I just had a REALLY bad day”).  Once the treasured tomes come home, you stick them in the middle of the floor, pick up the first one and enter a fascinating new world–for about ten minutes.  Then ‘Real Life’ enters, in the form of a needy child or a pile of homework or a husband who just tripped over the books on the floor.  After you finish feeding the kid, doing/making the exercises, and negotiating with the husband (there just wasn’t room on the bookshelf”), you settle down with the book–and the magic’s gone.  The writing is still sharp, the characters interesting, but it just doesn’t fit anymore.

So you grab another off the pile.  That one charms you with a fast-moving plot and fast-talking characters.  Somehow, it follows you into the bed room, and ends up on your night stand.

However, when you reach for a book the next morning to take on the train or for a coffee break during work, book #2 just doesn’t cut it.  Maybe it’s too fast.  Maybe the characters talk too much.  Or maybe it won’t fit into your backpack or briefcase.  Whatever the reason, you go back to the pile, and grab a third book.

Before you know it, all five books are Reads in Progress.  Well, alright, you’re just creative, yes?  They’ll all get finished eventually.  So you put it out of your mind.

Until one day, you get The Email.  It uses such foul language as “due date” and “fines” and “no renewals left.”

Then you enter the 5 Stages of Overdue Book Grief:

Denial/Isolation: “They couldn’t have been due this soon!  Ooops, parent/friend/significant other watching–quick, close the browser!”

Anger: “How dare they charge me $10!  Seriously, what happened to free libraries?”

Bargaining: “If I promise that this is the last time I’ll have to pay a fine, can I get out more books?  Please parent/friend/significant other?”

Depression: “They’re gone.  They’re all…GONE.  I’ll never know if the aliens would have conquered Earth, or whether the house was haunted by ghosts or just had a really bad case of rodent infestation.”

Acceptance: “I’ll just have to check out more.  Plus, I DO have that discount at the bookstore…”

This is an extreme case of book promiscuity.  Most people manage to return the books before they get fines.  Others sensibly buy the books so there is no limit on their reading commitments.  I’ve even heard of the rare few who actually finish all the books.  If you are the latter, please comment so that I may give you a golden crab nebula sticker and a look of appreciative awe.

Currently, I am in the recovery stages of book promiscuity, with the help of a very understanding-yet-firm husband.  As long as I keep the fines minimal to none and keep the books in an unused part of the floor, I may continue to check out a reasonable amount of books.