The Terror of the Blank Page
Apparently this is a thing. The terror of the blank page. Staring at the sheet and feeling you have to fill it with profundity, insight and wit. Or just enough words to satisfy your deadline.
To be honest, I’ve always had more trouble with the other part. The closer I get to the end, the harder it is to continue. But writing is hard, start to finish, and there are so many easy ways to stop that it is amazing any of us ever start. I’ve been given some pretty good advice over the years regarding all three stages, beginning, middle, and end, and here at the first post seems like a good place to share them.
For beginnings, my father, who is an artist, always suggested not starting on the first page of the sketchbook. The first page (or paragraph, or opening line) is a scary place. It feels like it should be your best work. So if you can’t start there start somewhere else. And if you must have something on the first page then put your name, the date, and move on. Start with something easy. You can always come back to the beginning later.
Middles are just about keeping on going. For this, time limits are essential. I find I always get the most done in the ten minutes before I have to go somewhere, cursing that I was just getting to the best part. So when the going gets tough and the words are hard to come by I structure my day around artificial time limits. Phone apps like 30:30 or task managers like Zamora Time, both of which are free, are pretty great for this. Work like crazy for thirty minutes because at the end you absolutely, have to, no questions asked, go downstairs and eat a chocolate bar.
Finishing is all about having someone or something force you to finish. Or, if you’re writing a PhD thesis, just getting so desperately depressed and horrified by what it is doing to your life that you cease caring and submit the bloody thing. If you don’t have a work or a conference submissions date for this, then submitting to free competitions can be a useful way to make deadlines for yourself. After all, the worst that can happen is that you don’t win – you can tell yourself that wasn’t the point anyway – and look, you finished the story/article/critique.
Another good trick is having friendly writers or willing readers and telling them you will send them something by such and such a date, ideally by meeting them in the pub. This is a great way to force you to finish (usually the night before/morning before/in the pub waiting for them to turn up). You’ll hand it over complaining that it’s not really done yet, you needed more time, and it’s only really a draft – but that’s ok, so will they. Exchanging work with colleagues in this fashion has also been the foundation of some pretty great friendships.
And there we go. The first step taken. The first blank page is filled. Maybe something profound, insightful, or witty will turn up later but for now – welcome to the blog!