The intimidating blank page
This is my first real blog entry.
It is also the first (hopefully) of many writing exercises I will be posting on this website.
So, where to begin?
I have an intimidating blank page in front of me demanding that I write. The cursor blinks and the words fail to come…
How often is this the case with aspiring (and accomplished) writers? Right now, anything seems more attractive than the prospect of writing. Yes, I have already completed the housework (well, some of it anyway); checked my emails and Facebook (played a few games, shhh) and ticked off all of the easiest and most pressing options on my extensive to-do list. Now is my opportunity to express myself; to free the thoughts and words that have been caged in my head and actually sit down and start writing.
I think I may need another cup of tea first…
I often complain that I don’t have enough time to write, but how much of that time (that I don’t have) is wasted in thinking about getting started? I create obstacles that aren’t there. I find tasks that ‘must’ be completed. I absorb myself in mind-numbing distractions (those pesky Facebook games). I decide that I really should go out and… well, do anything else.
Once I start writing, however, I often don’t want to stop. The children go without the dinner I was planning and have jacket potatoes again (luckily they love jacket potatoes); I’m late for meeting friends or I realise it’s 3am and I need to be up at 6.45 but, until those first few sentences have been written, I resist that blinking cursor.
I know that I am not alone. Whether this is encouraging or not is debatable. Think of all those fantastic novels and stories that have been lost through their creators’ failure to write them down. Sit down. Get on with it. Stop procrastinating. Will any of these self reprimands really solve the problem?
Writer’s block is like the opposite extreme of procrastination. The writer sits at their writing desk or computer and nothing comes. They stare at that blinking cursor or doodle in the margins of their notebooks and no words, no stories, no ideas are forthcoming. This can happen mid sentence or half-way through a story; right at the beginning of a project or within sight of the end. It is incredibly frustrating. Sometimes there’s a reason. The story, characters or themes are not working out and the writer has lost interest. Sometimes a lack of direction in the plot prevents a story being completed or a failure to grasp inspiration stops a new idea taking hold. Sometimes real life intrudes too much and there are too many distractions, a difficulty in focussing or simple blankness. Whatever it is, the words wont come.
Sometimes, of course, the fear of writers’ block is enough to cause a writer to procrastinate. If I don’t attempt to write (even though I know I ‘should’ and I really, really want to) then I wont be faced with the horror of having nothing to say.
Clear away the obstacles that stop you from writing. (This is obviously easier said than done). Think about what gets in your way and find solutions -creative solutions if needs be, but not ones that involve posting the children to relatives in Australia or building a beautiful writing shed at the bottom of your dream-house garden. Practical, achievable solutions. There may be no quick fix answers. It may take some effort but, in the end, if what you really want to do is write, then it will be worth it.
One way to approach this is to write a list of all the reasons that you don’t write as much as you would like. For a start, you will be writing (even lists have a certain poetry to them) and, if you are honest with yourself, you may also identify what is preventing you from doing what you really want to do. For some people this could be enough (lucky them) but the rest of us may need to put in a little more work. Use any old scrap of paper to hand – the back of an envelope is ideal – and split the paper into three columns. Oh, and any pen will do – or any combination of pens if you want it to look pretty – but don’t get distracted from the task in hand by colour coding and pretty doodles.
- The first column is for your obstacles. Write down what prevents you from writing. Try to explore particular aspects. For example don’t just write ‘fear’ but explore what it is that you are afraid of. Is it fear of failing? Fear that it will take over? Fear that you will have nothing to say? Fear that people will laugh at you or criticise or reprimand you for wasting time?
- The second column is for short-term solutions. This is for ways of making immediate changes that may free you up to write. These are unlikely to be your ideal solutions but will do on a temporary basis. There could well be more than one short-term solution for any particular obstacle. Write them all down and if you think of others later come back to your list.
- The third column (you’ve guessed it) is for longer-term, more ideal solutions. These can be realistic or complete fantasy. These are the solutions that you think you need. If you can achieve your long-term solutions, great. If not, don’t waste too much time looking round those out-of-reach dream homes. The hard work is finding the short-term solutions which will free you up to start writing. Now.
My list looks something like this.
List of writing obstacles and possible solutions
Keep your list somewhere safe. Add to it. Try out the short-term solutions and aim for the longer-term. If all else fails, use it for inspiration for a short-story or a character… and now, try the ten minute free fall exercise.
Writing Exercise – ten minute free fall
Writing is like most things – it improves the more you practice; it gets easier and flows better. Sometimes you may not feel like writing and the obstacles may appear bigger than at other times but, if you make yourself write on a regular basis, it becomes more natural and accessible.
The aim of this exercise is to encourage a daily slot of ‘free fall’ writing.
- Set your alarm for ten minutes and then write. Write whatever comes into your head. It may be nonsense or it may be poetic. The important thing is to write for ten minutes without stopping.
- Don’t go back and read what you have written before the ten minutes is up but keep writing until your alarm sounds and then stop. Mid-sentence if needs be. Stop.
- Put your notebook down and get on with something else for the next ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, two hours.
- When you are ready come back and read what you have written.
- Put your notebook down and get on with something else for the next ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, two hours (thinking and processing time is very important for writing – even if you’re not aware that you are thinking about it, you will be).
- When you are ready come back to your notebook again and spend about five minutes reading your writing. Be positive. Look for the good bits. Circle (in a different coloured pen if you want) any ideas you may want to develop further; possible plot ideas or characters that could be developed; good bits of description or dialogue. Anything. Anything positive.
- If you feel like it go on and write some more, develop your ideas or write something completely different. If you don’t feel like it/don’t have time leave it until the next day and repeat the exercise.
- Don’t look at the negative or worry about spelling, grammar etc. This is free fall writing and is a way just to encourage you to write and explore ideas.
Your first few attempts may go something like this
17th September 2012 21:12
I am writing a free fall exercisie and I dont know what to write. She says write for ten minutes, about absoloutly anything and don’t worry about spelling or grammar or anything. i dont think that this could possibley have any value at all. how am I supposed to find anything positive to say about this rubbish that is spilling from my mouth in a stream of consciousness. It is gabbling rubbish and I am a little ashamed to be writing it. Perhaps writing really sint for me. I can think of nothing to say and … etc etc etc
Don’t be put off but carry on with it. You may be surprised what starts appearing on the page the more you practice it. Don’t expect to be praising yourself too much in the first couple of weeks but always attempt to find one positive idea in your writing. I like to date and time my free fall writing and keep them as a diary of ideas.
Another idea is to ‘free fall’ write about a particular subject. For instance, choose one ‘obstacle’ from your list and explore it – the reasons for the obstacle and the possible short and long-term solutions. Let yourself go with it and see what happens.