Finally! You’ve got some time set aside to write. Comfy chair, cup of coffee (or tea), beautiful silence, and a blank white page, staring you in the face. A big, empty rectangle, waiting for you to fill it with literary brilliance. Yep, just you and the page, little blinking cursor at the ready. You place your hands on the keyboard, and…nothing. Hmmm…I wonder if I have any facebook notifications…
I haven’t met an author who hasn’t experienced some form of this. I call it blank page syndrome, or BPS for short. Do you suffer from BPS? If so, don’t despair – you’re not alone. Below are a list of writer-approved strategies** that will help you combat this debilitating condition.
** Ask your editor if these strategies are right for you
1. Take a walk
After writing from 9 in the morning until 2pm, Charles Dickens would go for a long walk. We’re talking 20 to 30 miles as a matter of course. It was also his go-to activity for sleepless nights. The man was even quoted, saying, “If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.”
Not only is walking good for you, but according to this Stanford study, walking actually improves your creativity. It doesn’t even matter where you do the walking – inside or out. It’s not the environment, but the act of walking itself that spurs the imagination into action. This is great news for those of us living on the west coast, where it rains 9 months a year.
Go ahead. Stand up, walk around the room and think about your latest project. You’ll be glad you did.
Still got nothing? Another trick is to compartmentalize your task. This does wonders for those of us who are overwhelmed at the idea of putting tens of thousands of words together coherently. Think about how it would feel if someone asked you to sit down and write 10,000 words on a subject. Now how would you feel if they asked you to write a paragraph, or even a sentence? The latter is far less intimidating.
Assuming you’re the one putting these demands on yourself, why not start with a sentence, and see where things go? There is even software that can help you do this. yWriter is free software (for PC) that breaks your novel into chapters and scenes, helping you keep track of your work. Scrivener is another more polished main-stream option (MAC or PC), though it comes with a $40 USD price tag.
3. Be Jammin’
This one’s easy – put on some headphones and listen to music. Everyone has different taste when it comes to this option, and sometimes different bands or styles lend themselves to writing different scenes (find more on music suggestions for different types of scenes in my previous post, Music to Write to).
If you’re unsure of what to go for, there’s always classical. Spotify has some great playlists for this. If you find that music is too distracting when you’re trying to write, it might be because you have the volume is too high. Turn it down and give it another go.
Pro-tip: put on music AND walk around the room to double your creativity boost!
4. Talk to the voices in your head
No, seriously, talk to them. Have your characters talk to each other, too. It helps to approach this as a warm-up exercise. Don’t think of it as part of your project, think of it as getting to know your characters, and allowing them to get to know each other. Maybe you use what you wrote, maybe not. Either way, you’ll be better off for it, and you’ll have a better idea of how your characters interact.
5. Don’t get too attached
This is a simple concept, but it’s often easier said than done. The main idea behind it is to remember that you aren’t chiseling words onto a stone tablet. You can and will likely delete big chunks of text, edit, refine, change, and then change again. Nobody, and I mean nobody is brilliant on the first try. When you are willing to write utter crap without judging yourself, the brilliance will eventually shine through. Get the ideas down, the rest will follow.
Try to think of starting a new project like doing a belly flop into a giant vat of warm jell-o. Sure, the splash is going to be messy, and you might feel uncomfortable at first, but eventually you’ll sink right in and learn to appreciate the satisfying feeling of squishing warm jell-o between your toes.
Nearly everyone has suffered from blank page syndrome at one time or another. The most important thing is that you aren’t too hard on yourself. Remember, writing is fun and fulfilling, but sometimes, it’s f*cking hard!