Here’s a quick tip that might help you if you have that age-old writer’s problem: fear of the blank page. It’s a very simple, practical way of making sure your encounters with the blank page are as brief and painless as possible.

blank_paper.jpgThe original title for this post? “Beating vacansopapurosophobia” (which, of course, means fear of blank paper). That headline would be enough to scare anyone away, so we’ll just stick to the everyday wordage for now. Still, at least writing the above excuse has ploughed me nearly a hundred words into this particular blank page.

The blank page is the writer’s worst enemy and best friend. It’s a fearsome barrier that holds the promise of your greatest ever writing. You can spend hours, perhaps even days, starting at that white space while your brain picks over and rejects those first words, while you tear yourself apart with the certainty that what you actually end up writing will be a pale shadow of the genius that really lurks inside your head.

Of course, once you actually, finally, start writing most of that fear goes. It might be transplanted by entirely new torments and insecurities but at least you don’t have to face that blank page again. So here’s a really simple and, perhaps most importantly, quick method of bypassing those first tortuous stages of the writing process. It works for me, it might work for you, or it might not. Also, it assumes that you do your writing on a computer, but even if you don’t you can simply try reading ‘notebook’ for ‘file’.

  1. Create a new file – give it the working title of your new story. Easy, right?
  2. Now that you’ve got your new file you may as well open it. Go to the first line – type in the name of the story. You already had the name, so no great effort there. And that’s pretty much it: no more blank page.
  3. Tell you what – since you’ve got the page open anyway, just write a quick synopsis: “This is a story about blank pages.”
  4. You’ve probably got a little bit more inside you than that, and I’ll bet you’ve got a minute or two to spare, so write that little bit more: “This is a story about the all-encompassing fear of blank pages and how we beat it down into a bloody quivering pulp that lies shattered somewhere underneath your keyboard.”
  5. That’s great; a nice short synopsis, you don’t really need much more than that. But you’ve almost certainly got your next scene, plot point, key beat figured out, so why not write it down? Just quickly, just a few words, a line or two. If you’ve got nothing better to do why not keep going?
  6. When you’re happy just stop. Have a cup of tea.

If you want to keep writing at this point then go for it, but as a rule of thumb this is meant to be a quick, completely non-daunting method of removing a barrier to starting your story. I wouldn’t really peg out more than a minute or two for the process: the whole idea is that it’s something you can do while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, or while the adverts are on, or that one last thing before you switch the computer off, etc. You don’t even need to write any of the actual story, the real psychological benefit is in creating the file that will hold your story and ensuring that it’s not completely blank when you next face it.

In all honestly, this is something I’ve only recently started doing – and mostly by accident. I’m not great at making notes for the blog posts and stories I want to write so, mostly as an aide-de-memoir, I started quickly creating new files in Google Docs, one for each story or blog post. Since I have several ideas buzzing around at any one time I took to adding “this story is about…” on several of them. I also have a Google Docs gadget on my iGoogle home page which means that whenever I load up my browser I’m shown a quick list of the latest documents I’ve worked on. It’s an exceedingly small step to go from there to actually writing something on one of those documents.

As you can probably imagine this has proved a lot more effective than my previous method of: “Oh, I really should that blog post about… hmm, what was it I was going to write about…?” Fingers crossed it works for one or two of you as well.