Why the Blank Page Is So Intimidating (and How to Fill It Anyway)

WHY IS THIS SO HARD?

It’s happened to just about every single one of us at this point. You decide you’re going to write, you sit down at your computer or in front of your notebook and one way or another you open to a blank page and …

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

It’s like the simple act of staring at that untouched page has erased every idea and ounce of motivation you possessed only moments before. Is it magic? Is it a curse? Nope. It’s just all in your head.

While that doesn’t mean your problem isn’t totally valid — sometimes we just want to write and, for whatever reason, feel like we can’t; it’s a real thing and many people struggle with it — in many cases, feeling intimidated in the face of “nothingness” is often the result of fear. Or a combination of negative feelings ranging from doubt to anxiety to just plain “I have an idea for a story but I have no gosh darn idea what to do with it.”

If the blank page is giving you trouble, you’ve come to the right place. I can’t guarantee any of my suggestions will solve all your problems, but maybe I can help steer you in the right direction and help you get some words on that page.

But before we get into how to solve this dilemma, let’s start with the reasons staring at an unfilled page causes so many people’s brains to just … freeze.

You are in complete control of what ends up on that page. We all want ultimate power until we have it and realize we can do literally whatever we want with it. No matter how much you love to write, even if you fully trust yourself to get it done, this can be absolutely terrifying. Some people freeze up because they’re faced with too many options. Others are scared they’re not going to do a good job or that they’re going to have to spend time rewriting mediocre work.

It’s easy to imagine what that page will look like, but doing the work is hard. Have you ever started imagining what it will feel like to hold your real, published book in your hands before you’ve even started writing it? We all have! It’s the dream! The problem is that we get a little too ahead of ourselves and get stuck because we want to “have written a book” and sort of forgot this requires actually writing it. It doesn’t matter how long you have or haven’t been doing this, everyone faces roadblocks along the way. But you have to put in the effort anyway. You have to make the words happen. You know this, That doesn’t make it any easier.

A million things could go wrong. You could start writing and make it 10 pages and realize everything you’ve written so far needs to be redone. You could end up writing a story someone else has already written — you could put in 400 hours of work only to have a meteor come crashing down, destroying your laptop (only your laptop, nothing else) and obliterating every single word you’ve typed. No matter your worries, it’s normal to wonder if the work you’re about to put in will even be worth it in the end. While it’s not easy to overcome roadblocks like these, you do eventually have to learn to compartmentalize, set aside your anxieties and write anyway.

So, how do you handle a “blank page blank-out”?

  • Go to the end of a document you’ve already written in and start writing there. Kind of a weird workaround, but really, if staring at nothing is what’s holding you back, try tricking your brain into thinking it’s not a new start at all. Write a few paragraphs and then cut and paste them into a new document, or just keep writing in the old one for that session and then transfer it over later. That way, the next time you sit down to work on it, it’s no longer a blank page and you’ve made some progress. Go you!
  • Give yourself a five-minute “brain charge.” What’s a brain charge? Think of it as the jog before the run, the stretch before the dance, the scales before the song — it’s your “pre-write,” anything you can do in five minutes to clear your head and get your brain ready to do some serious creative thinking. This could mean writing down a bunch of random ideas on a dry-erase board (about anything), doodling in a notebook, sprinting around the yard with your dog … sometimes all you need is to look away for a few minutes and then dive in without giving yourself time to get psyched out all over again.
  • If all else fails, just start writing whatever. If you feel like you just can’t get past the blank page no matter how hard you try, then yes, it is OK to force yourself to just write anything. I’m not saying you should force yourself to write every single time you struggle — sometimes you need a break. But I am giving you permission to just start putting down whatever comes to mind. Will some of it be terrible? Probably. But not all of it. Some good is going to come from it. What often happens is that you get past the blank page barrier and all of a sudden you’ve written 1500 words and BOOM you did something! Woohoo!

Don’t fear the blank page! It’s not nearly as intimidating as it seems.


Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.


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One thought on “Why the Blank Page Is So Intimidating (and How to Fill It Anyway)

  1. I’m a big believer in the “just start writing, even if you write ‘I have no idea what to write’ over and over again.” Often I will start with a question, like “what do I want to write,” “what would be an interesting place to visit,” or “what would be an exciting experience?”
    In some cases I set my media player to shuffle and start writing a scene to go with one of the nonlyric tracks that comes up (though I often skip around a bit before finding one that really hooks me).

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