Just as an artist wouldn’t be able to rework a blank canvas, a writer cannot edit a blank page. Making mistakes is part of the process; don’t smother your creativity out of fear and doubt.
Everyone has ebbs and flows in their creativity. Just as bamboo is strong but bends and sways in the breeze, be flexible in your approach to writing, maintaining an awareness of where you are going and the flexibility of thought to follow wherever your creative process takes you, unencumbered by resistance or doubt.
“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can,” author Neil Gaiman told The Guardian.
If you struggle to overcome a fear of the blank page, take a deep breath and try one of these techniques.
1. Take action
For many, the blank page can be intimidating and overwhelming. Though just as when you worried about a monster in your closet as a child, to make the monster disappear, all you need to do is open the door.
Similarly, “open the door” to your creativity by starting to write. The trick — as with honing every skill — is to practice.
“Don’t just plan to write — write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style,” author PD James said, when asked for her favourite writing tips by Guardian Books.
You wouldn’t trust a heart surgeon who has read books on how to operate, but never actually picked up a scalpel. Reading about writing craft is wonderful, but you also need to write — ideally, every day, even if it’s just for five minutes.Reading about writing craft is wonderful, but you also need to write, says @WriterJoMalby Click To Tweet
“[The] Resistance knows that the longer we noodle around ‘getting ready,’ the more time and opportunity we’ll have to sabotage ourselves. Resistance loves it when we hesitate, when we over-prepare. The answer: plunge in,” author Steven Pressfield told Krista Stevens in this interview.
2. Stick with the process
Be prepared to tolerate the anxiety that comes with not being able to write as well as you’d like, and push through it. Suspending judgment when you’re writing frequently leads to unexpected creative gems.
“That freedom opens you to the surprising stuff you never saw coming; stuff that makes you smile as you sit there in the coffee shop, your mug of joe cooling because you’ve forgotten to take a sip in 15 solid minutes,” says author and Contributing Editor at Writer’s Digest, Elizabeth Sims.
“When beginning a writing session, new authors often feel that they must jump off to an excellent start, when all they really need is to start.”
3. Be willing to write badly
When we allow ourselves to let go of any preconceptions of what our writing should be, we loosen the creative faucet. Let go of your inner red pen and leave the editing until later.
“[Be] willing to write really badly. It won’t hurt you to do that. I think there is this fear of writing badly. Forget it! Let it float away and the good stuff follows,” says novelist Jennifer Egan in an interview with The Days of Yore.
“The bad beginning is just something to build on. It’s no big deal. You have to give yourself permission to do that because you can’t expect to write regularly and always write well. That’s when people get into the habit of waiting for the good moments, where I think writer’s block comes from. Maybe good writing isn’t happening, but let some bad writing happen …
“When I was writing “The Keep,” my writing was so terrible. My working title for that first draft was, A Short Bad Novel. I thought: “How can I disappoint?”
4. Use freewriting to kickstart your creativity
Many authors advocate freewriting as a wonderful way of coercing your creativity out of its shell — whether you believe in the idea of a writing muse or not.
“I have forced myself to begin writing when I’ve been utterly exhausted, when I’ve felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes … and somehow the activity of writing changes everything,” author Joyce Carol Oates told The Paris Review in 1989.
Whether you use a writing prompt, an image, or a line of text from a favourite book, set a timer, start writing and don’t stop until your time is up. The trick is to keep moving, even if you’re not sure what to say next.
5. Remember to enjoy yourself
When we feel barricaded in by deadlines or pressured by outside forces, it’s easy to forget the beauty, joy and fun of writing.
“Have humility. Remember you don’t know the limits of your own abilities. Successful or not, if you keep pushing beyond yourself, you will enrich your own life — and maybe even please a few strangers,” AL Kennedy told The Guardian.
Celebrate each writing accomplishment, whether it’s as large as finishing your first draft of a novel or as small as writing the first sentence. The more you enjoy your work, the easier it becomes to write the next sentence and tackle the next writing goal.
How do you deal with blocked creativity and fear of the blank page?