Three fun & creative exercises to get you out of your head and putting words onto paper
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Don’t fear the Blank Page Of Doom — choose your weapons and wrestle it into compliance
The Blank Page Of Doom looms in front of you, the cursor blinking menacingly. The longer you stare at it, the less it seems like a simple blank page.
It’s morphed into a swirly black-red monster with horns and teeth.
And it’s huge.
When I get stuck Blank Page Paralysis, I often feel a little like Frodo approaching Mount Doom: it’s so big and scary and intimidating, I can’t see any way up.
You know what I mean, don’t you? All writers face this sometimes. It’s popularly called “writer’s block”, but writer’s block is a myth and an enabling crutch (more on that in another article). Whatever you want to call it, you’re stuck.
Even with a detailed outline, even with our books substantively written and planned out, we still have to face the dreaded blank page when we sit down to actually write.
You’ll face the blank page a lot. Seriously. A lot. Even writers who write for a living sometimes feel like the words won’t come. Yesterday was a day like that for me. It was a real struggle. You’ll face those struggles too.
But I have good news. Guess what: you know how to deal with it already because the Blank Page of Doom isn’t limited to writing. The Blank Page of Doom is a creative block, and it crops up all over the place. I’m sure you’re familiar with it outside of writing your book.
Take trapeze, for example — which is pretty much my favourite thing to do, after writing. I might be working on an arduous new trick combination and feel like I’m getting nowhere. I’m stalled.
Instead of sitting on the floor and stewing over it, I go back to basics. I do some exercises I know I can do, which are the foundations of the advanced moves I want to master. The key is action.
Take action — any action related to your goal — and progress will happen.
What I mean is: just flippin’ WRITE.
But that’s not terribly useful advice on its own. Instead, I’ll share with you three cool writing exercises which will help you get out of your own way. They’ll help you beat your perfectionism and your Inner Dickhead’s desire to produce a perfect first paragraph right away — so you get started fast.
Plus, they’re fun.
Think of these writing exercises as your warm-up. I wouldn’t get on a trapeze without warming up. You wouldn’t start a workout in the gym without warming up. Don’t start writing without warming up. You can do these exercises at the start of every writing session if you like.
1. The “Modernist Poetry” Exercise
Let’s start with a little creative writing exercise that’ll have you penning some bonkers modernist poetry. Stick with me; it’ll be fun, I promise.
Open a blank page — either on paper or on your computer. Write the first word that comes into your head. It could be anything. Easy, right?
Now write another word. This is harder because it must be a random word, disconnected from the previous one. Your perfectionist Inner Dickhead won’t like it, but your Inner Dickhead is a douchecanoe so ignore him and write the random word anyway.
Then write a third word. Then a fourth. And carry on.
Play with your words! Listen to the sounds they make, rather than their meaning. Think Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear’s nonsense rhymes. Make up new words. Come up with the most random nouns you can think of. Turn nouns into verbs and vice versa. Break all the rules of grammar you ever heard. Don’t use punctuation — unless you make it fun.
Don’t be embarrassed, it’s meant to sound absurd. And you don’t have to show it to anyone (although I’d love to see it if you want to share).
How’s this for a silly poem:
Socks on trivet
Glowstick hides in Earl Grey tea
Halo the spatula and bromate the Sally
Petrichor on the palanquin
Daft. But fun. You’ll come up with words you never knew you knew.
This is a good game for exercising your creative muscles and letting go of your need to get things right. It’s a good activity for loosening you up. Have a play, because playing is what this exercise is all about.
The next one is good for practising writing without editing. Are you ready?
2. The “Writers Write” Exercise
I learned this exercise from one of my mentors, Jon McCulloch — and he tells me he got it from a chap called Steve Manning. It’s a splendid activity. Have a go.
Get a timer and set it for five minutes.
- Get a piece of paper and a pen. Write down these three words: flamingo, cheese, pyjamas.
- Pick one of those three words as the first word you write. It must be the first word of the first sentence you write.
- Start your timer and begin writing. Write as fast as you can and don’t stop to edit. Write anything that comes into your head.
- The other two words must appear at least once in your first paragraph.
- Write for the whole five minutes. Don’t stop to think. Don’t stop to edit. Don’t stop, full stop!
- When the timer stops, look at what you’ve written. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how high quality it is.
If you’re stuck on a chapter of your book and can’t get started, try this exercise with keywords from your chapter. You will almost certainly need to throw away the first paragraph or two, but you betcha boots you’ll end up with something useful. Fix the typos later; they don’t matter.
3. The “Mundane Story” Exercise
A great way to start writing is to find a story and link it to your topic. This is why I collect stories.
Let’s take an email I once wrote about one of the things that’s wrong with most business homepages. I could have droned on about how they’re confusing and boring, but that’s dull.
Here’s what came out:
* * *
Dammit where is that egg timer? I know I’ve seen it somewhere.
In the kitchen. I last saw it in the kitchen.
I think it might have been in…
*cue B-movie dramatic horror music, thunder, and dimming of the lights*
The Kitchen Drawer of Doom
That place where everything from pliers to birthday candles to napkins to old batteries to random spoons lurk forgotten and abandoned.
I don protective clothing and take a swig of gin. I’m going in. Wish me luck.
Five minutes later, and I’m buying the thing I need from Amazon instead.
Funnily enough, it’s also how I feel when I land on most websites. I have no idea what to do or where to go next, so I leave.
* * *
Instead of agonising over the best boring way to start, the Kitchen Drawer of Doom popped into my head and reminded me that’s what a lot of homepages are like: cluttered and confusing. So I told that slightly exaggerated but hopefully amusing tale about losing stuff in the kitchen. Then I flipped it into the topic I wanted to talk about.
By telling a story we can all relate to (because we all have a kitchen drawer like that) I was able to get and keep attention. Then I connected it to cluttered homepages — a connection my readers might not make by themselves.
Close Your Eyes And Type
Look: the Blank Page of Doom won’t ever disappear for good. But it doesn’t have to be insurmountable. All you have to do is start.
In this article, I’ve given you three ways to get words on paper, which is the most important thing of all.
If they don’t work for you, close your eyes and mash the keyboard until your fingers feel compelled to start producing actual words. Then see what tumbles out of your brain and onto your computer screen.
When you do start writing, keep going — without editing as you write.
You can beat the Blank Page Of Doom, I promise. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
Remember the difference between amateurs and professionals: amateurs let their fears and excuses paralyse them. Professionals suck it up and get to work.
You’re a pro and you have the skills. Use them.
Start Writing Your Book Today
If you want to learn more about how to write, self-publish, and market a book for your business, snaffle yourself a copy of How The Hell Do You Write A Book? Then check out the blog and podcast for more articles and guides. If you want a little (or a lot) more help, find out how you can work with me.
Vicky Fraser is the founder of Moxie Books and author of How The Hell Do You Write A Book and Business For Superheroes. She helps business owners write life-changing books, connect with readers and new customers, and grow their businesses. When she's not doing that, she's hanging from a trapeze by her feet.