We don’t need to fear the blank page: strategies for stuck writers

What are you afraid of?

First up; what is it about the blank page that instils fear for you?

For some, it is fear that what will come out will not be good.

It may be that you have to get someone to read those words.

There might be a lot depending on the final document – for example, if you are writing a job application.

So, fear is understandable. It means you care. However, it is no good to let it paralyse you.

Understand your fear and then manage it.

Commit to overcoming the fear: schedule writing time and stick to it

Seems obvious, but you can’t tackle a blank page if you never take time to write. And yes, I’m talking taking time again. We can’t invent time, we have to choose the things we do in the time we have.

It might mean saying no to other things.

It might mean rethinking your idea/ideals about how and when you can write.

What do you really need to write? Think about how much time? What kind of space? What resources and research?

These factors change depending on what you are writing. While it’s good to know what works for you as a writing routine, sometimes it’s good to change things up…

Fill in the blanks

The main thing is you start to write. Something.

Some people write the title, play around with fonts. These might be viewed as procrastination techniques (a post on this coming soon), but they are also making you stay on the page.

It is no longer blank.

You might also want to do some free-writing. This is not going to be the final piece, but it is the warm up.

Free-writing gets your ideas out there. We think better as we write.

Skeleton structure

Start with some big level outlining. That could be as simple as Abstract, Intro, Section 1…

Page is filling up.

There is no ‘writing’ as content/analysis there yet, but you are still on the page. You are putting one foot/word in front of the other.

In no particular order?

The beauty of sectioning out a blank page is that you can start to write where you are ‘at’. You may have the headlines of your abstract – cool.

You might however, have finished some analysis of data and want to write about a core theme. Do it.

You can move things around – only if they are there.

A living document

You can’t write what you want to be read in one go.

In other words, the first draft is the first draft.

We all have heard of the crappy/rough/shitty first draft. So, learn to embrace that.

First time around – the writing is for your eyes only.

Once you have edited it a couple of times – GET FEEDBACK!! (another post on fear of the reader coming).

Step away

Crucial – get distance & time between your writing and re-writing. Ditto editing and restructuring and proofreading.

If the Pomodoro technique is for you – use that. Sit and write in 20 minute blocks.

If working in longer stretches is for you, fine. Just remember to factor in breaks.

Words can be re-written; they should be.

The beauty – and for some pain – of writing is that is can, and will, be changed.

Writing is a craft. It takes work. The more we do, the better we become.

If you want to write, if you need to write, then start with a simple sentence.

‘Today, I am going to write….’

Keep going and be kind to yourself

Writing will take longer than you think.

Your writing is better than you think.

Writing is a powerful tool.

You have got this.

Check out my self-directed e-workbook, ‘Journalling for academic writers’ – helping you to find short periods of time to work out your best writing practice. Then prioritise your writing. 

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