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Friday, September 4, 2009

Fear of the Blank Page

How many of you have trouble getting started on a writing project?  I certainly do.  The project doesn’t have to be something as hard as an academic essay, either; it could be something as seemingly simple as writing a letter to your grandparent.  The act of creating something out of nothing seems more the province of God, not mortals, but it’s an act we engage in every time we sit down to write with a blank page staring back at us.

Facing all of that whiteness can be intimidating.  If you’re using a computer to write, the blinking cursor doesn’t help any; if anything, it seems impatient for input, like it doesn’t have the time to wait for you to think up something good.  That kind of pressure just makes it all the more difficult to get started.

As if that weren’t bad enough, when you DO manage to get something written, it has to be strong enough to withstand the scrutiny that comes from standing alone.  Even the most solid sentence starts to sound questionable when it’s the only sentence on the page. 

If you (like me) fear the blank page, don’t worry - you’re not alone.  Most of my students find it hard to start writing an essay from scratch, too.  I’d venture to say your reaction is abnormal if you don’t approach a blank page with at least a little bit of trepidation.

Tips for Getting Over the Fear

Most people resign themselves to waging war with the blank page every single time they have to start a new writing project from scratch. There are actually some things that can be done to counteract the fear, though.

For starters, write an outline.    Not only are they great for setting up a well organized paper, but if you start writing your paper INSIDE the outline, you’re not facing a blank page at the onset.   When you finish your paper, just remember to go back and delete the parts of your outline that you wrote around (e.g. “I. Introduction” ).   This is my personal choice when it comes to writing and I use it for everything from writing cover letters to writing short stories. 

Another tactic is to copy and paste “dummy text” into the document to fool yourself into thinking you’ve already made progress and aren’t starting from square one.  I learned about this trick when I was reading a famous author’s blog (I wish I could remember which author it was so I could give him/her credit for the idea).  The author would copy and paste random parts of the U.S. Constitution into a document to get over facing the blank page.  Almost any text will do, really.  Just don’t forget to go back and delete it once you make headway on your paper!

Hopefully these tips will help you spend less time staring at a blank page and more time actually writing.  As always, e-mail me or post a comment if you have a writing tip to share that works for you. 

Photo credit: Rennett Stowe


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