The tyranny of the blank page

screamPaperWhat’s white, white, and so terrifyingly white that your mind goes completely blank just looking at it?

The first blank page of a project.

Few things can strike terror in the heart of a writer like an empty page. It just sits there, staring back at you expectantly, even a little mockingly: “What could you possibly write on me that would be an improvement on my pristine whiteness?” it seems to say. If you think the moon is a harsh mistress, it’s got nothing on that soul-sucking first page of a manuscript.

How do you get past that blank first page and into the business of telling a story? Here’s a few thoughts:

  1. Give yourself permission to stink. Few first chapters, let alone first pages, ever survive intact. Remind yourself that you don’t have to be brilliant on your first page. No story springs, fully-formed and perfect, into existence on the first try, so just start writing and worry about whether it’s any good later. It would probably even be a good idea to humble that annoying, tyrannical first page by purposely writing something atrocious on it–just to show it who’s boss.
  2. Just start! Or, as my kids say all too often for some reason, “Just DO it!” (Usually spoken with a Jersey accent–also for some inexplicable reason.) Write the text of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” if you have to, but start filling up that page with something. When you get bored, start writing what comes to mind for your story. And then keep going. Don’t allow yourself to go back and fix anything, or even stop and reread. Just write. Write until you’re at least several pages in and don’t want to stop. Pretend it’s NaNoWriMo all over again and you don’t want to delete a single word lest you not achieve your word count for the day!
  3. Pretend you’ve already started. Rather than worry about creating a suitable introduction, just pretend you already did that and just skip to the good stuff. Start off at the action, or at the dialogue without having to explain the setting, the characters, or anything that would normally come before it. You can always go back and add that in later. Just go! Write!
  4. Write (Title Goes Here) and move on! How many of us think we have to have a title before we can start? I do! Or did. I’m slowly forcing myself to overcome that foolish notion. If you simply must have a title, come up with a code name instead. Call it something random in true CIA fashion, like “Project Vinaigrette Rototiller.” Chances are you’d throw out your original title idea anyway. Refuse to let it get in your way!
  5. Use a bribe. Put some chocolate or some other reward on a plate next to your monitor. Don’t let yourself eat it until you’ve completely filled that first, offensive blank page, even if you have to write entirely about how wonderful that piece of chocolate would taste right now.

There are a few ideas. How do you deal with the fear of starting, or it’s more famous cousin, writers block?

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom is a Utah transplant, works for a regional bank, and spends his lunch hours working on his latest novel. His wife, three kids, and four pets find him amusing and somewhat useful, so they keep him around.

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