The blank page… No greater dread have I.
Oh certainly there are things far more frightening than a blank page. I'm just unable to think of them right now. The sheer expanse of blank white screen is threatening to swallow me up. If I don't get some words on the screen it will suck me down and I'll never get anything done. Oh, look, is that a new game on Facebook?
No! Focus, blank page, must fill it.
I'm currently sitting on two deadlined writing assignments from Catalyst Game Labs. I also have another one that doesn't have a deadline yet, but that's a matter of time. Oh and I've got a Steampunk short story pounding on my skull to get out and an alternate earth story. The last two are purely because I want to write them, heavens knows what I'll do with them if I do.
So what am I doing on my lunch hour? When I could be cranking out a thousand or so words of productive, what am I doing?
Staring at the damned bloody blank page and trying to find the motivation to start.
Oh, look, squirrel…
So while I avoid the blank page syndrome, I decided to write about how I have dealt with blank page syndrome in the past. I know, I know, the irony. At least I'm writing.
Don't Start with a blank page: I learned this trick in my project management career. After nearly two decades working in High Tech, I've developed a large storehouse of templates. I have templates for charters, templates for plan of record, templates for status reports (in doc, ppt and xls format), templates for one on ones, even a template for my PMP application.
The template gives you a framework to start with. Something on the screen (page) so it's not so damndably white.
Throw some spaghetti at the wall: You don't have to start at the beginning, you don't even need to start in the middle or the end. You can just not start. I know, makes no sense, that's why it will fool your brain.
Instead of forming a complete sentence, jot down half formed ideas. For one story I have a disjointed page that includes things like the characters name, a note saying "artifact wraps around right arm", a half formed snippet of dialogue ("What is it about me that attracts trouble? Why can't I just have a normal day?") and some other odds and ends.
When I started, I didn't have a single fully formed thought. I just dropped ideas down and worked from there. Before I knew it, I was driving off on a line of dialogue and descriptions that gave me nearly an entire scene.
Right tool for the job: I've discovered that Word (insert your preferred document program of choice) isn't always what I need for a particular writing task. When it comes to the finished product, I'll always move to Word. Until then I make use of many other tools.
Mk I Notebook: Don't knock the good old paper and pencil. Writing by hand uses a different part of your brain than typing does. I use a notebook to jot down ideas sometimes. The free form nature allows me to explore concepts with greater ease
OneNote/ EverNote: I've been using OneNote for a while now. All my blogs are written in OneNote and I store future blog ideas and notes in the same Notebook in my OneNote. I've given EverNote a twirl, but I it's linear data entry doesn't offer the same free form that OneNote does. (I do use EverNote for notes I want easy access too. EverNote's syncing from PC, to iPhone to iPad is currently much better than OneNote.)
OneNote is a great place to capture ideas and concepts, to paste research and the like. I have taken to starting a project in OneNote and migrating to Word as it gets more gelled.
Excel: Does your story have a lot of moving pieces? If you're writing for an established universe or a game system, there are a ton of moving pieces. I'm working on one project that is pulling from close to twenty sourcebooks. I've been laying out data in a spreadsheet, to better organize it. When I was writing (as a player) for an online multiplayer game I kept a spreadsheet for the cast of characters for my faction in the game. I started with this list early on, before I started writing stories.
Change the subject: If I'm unable to break the blank page barrier on a project, I will change to another project. If I'm writing, then I'm at least exercising my art. I may not be creating paid for words, but I'm being creative and that's the most important thing. Which is why I'm here, writing a blog, instead of writing one of my Catalyst contracts.
Do: Don't let the horror of a blank page slow you down. Harness the fear and Iet it be your ally. Or at the very least beat it into submission and lock it in the closet with the rest of your fears.
Until next time,
Writer, Explorer, Learner
Caveat Emptor- These blogs are written without the protection of an editor. I do proofread them, but I know I'm far from perfect. The ideas are sound and I'm still learning the foundational techniques. Thank you.