“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” — Jodi Picoult
Well yes, Jodi, that’s true of course. I 1,000% agree with you.
But it’s easier said than done, amiright?
When I’m sitting there in front of my blank page, head buzzing with static, fighting the urge to clean the bathroom or peel all the skin off my lips, this statement always makes me feel like shit.
Because I KNOW it’s correct.
I KNOW it’s sensible.
And I KNOW a bad page is just the premonition of a good page (hopefully).
But what’s missing is how to get there. How to push through the wall of static and write something—anything—on that horrifyingly empty white screen.
Let’s start with the idea that the Blank Page of Doom is, well, doomy and terrifying. It’s been drummed into us by acres of people writing about writing and declaring that writers block is inevitable, writing is painful, and the blank page is awful and something to be feared.
How about, instead, we see the blank page as a gift?
Because it is. It is a wonderful wilderness of possibility, devoid of expectations and tranquil in its emptiness.
Picture it in your head. Maybe it’s a deserted beach. Maybe it’s a sunbathed mountain vista. Maybe it’s a snowscape. Maybe it’s your sofa. I dunno, it’s your head.
Now here are 5 suggestions for how to start writing when you just. can’t.
1. Stop trying to write something great
Be honest, now. You’re not trying to make marks on paper, are you?
You’re trying to Write A Book. You’re setting out to turn this blank page into A Marvellous Piece of Writing that People Will Applaud.
And by doing that, you’re setting yourself up for woe.
Instead, try this: set out to write something that’s total shit. Seriously. Open your brain and allow the thoughts to tumble out, without worrying about whether they’re coherent or rational.
The only way to get from blank page to great is to go through a pile of absolute nonsense first.
The blank page isn’t the problem; your intentions for it are.
Shift your intentions, and crack on.
2. Your Shitty First Draft is perfect
Related to that is this: the only thing your Shitty First Draft has to do is exist.
It is perfect in its shitty existence. Because, like Jodi Picoult said, you can edit a bad page and turn it into something good.
Embrace the shittiness of the first draft! Celebrate it!
Go and write a creative compost heap of tosh and then see what grows, like an avocado tree from that discarded avocado stone you chucked in a month ago.
3. Set boundaries
For your brain, I mean. And for other people too, that’s healthy; but right now I mean set boundaries for your writing.
There’s a school of thought out there—mostly as far as I can tell embraced by people who never write anything at all, let alone anything good—that creativity should be wild and unfettered.
No boundaries, no parameters, no rules.
That kind of tomfoolery will result in staring at the blank page while the static hisses in our heads.
If I say to you, draw a picture, you’ll say, what of?
And if I say, oh anything it doesn’t matter, you’ll want to slap me because suddenly you achieve that most zenlike of states—total emptiness of mind—and you can’t even think of a banana.
Because the second we have the freedom to do anything at all, with no prompt, most brains freeze.
Give yourself boundaries. A plan. An outline.
They’re not sexy and hippie and freeloveandpeace,maaaaan but they ARE useful.
4. Fix your outline
If you do have an outline and you’re still stuck, this might help.
Is your outline broken?
By which I mean, you can see where you want to start and finish… but what about the bit in the middle? A and C is fine, but B makes no sense and doesn’t fit so you can’t get from A to C.
If you find yourself stuck and you have an outline, go back to it and make sure it still makes sense. And fix it if it doesn’t.
Your outline isn’t ever a finished document, set in stone. It’s there to guide you, and to change as your book changes. Because your book will change as you go.
5. Just bloody write
Yeah, I know, it’s not fashionable at the moment to give such blunt and assertive instructions, but I’ve never been a fashionista, so suck it.
Staring at the blank page and wringing your hands won’t help. Writing will.
Stop trying to write the book you want to write, and instead write any damn thing.
My suggestion: write about not being able to write. Note down the thing you’re supposed to be working on, and rage about not being able to do it. Why can’t you write? What’s stopping you?
You’ll probably find, after you’ve raged on the page a little, that you not only no longer have a blank page, but you’re ready to start.
And if none of that works and you want a little outside help, I’d love to oblige.
I created my Book Breakthrough Jam for precisely this disaster: you have an idea, you think it might be a good one, and you are repeatedly and consistently not doing anything about it.
Let’s fix that and get your damn book started.
Payment plans are available!
Figuring out why you’re stuck is one of the things we dig deep into during a Book Breakthrough Jam, in which we get really clear on why you’re writing your book, the Reader Journey, your core message, and your outline. You leave knowing exactly what to do next—and what to keep doing every day after that.
Find out more here:
Or book a call with me here and we’ll talk.
Notes in the Margin
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