This is a guest blog entry by Violeta Nedkova.
Whether you’re writing a report or an article or a short story, you’ve most likely encountered the irrational fear of the stark naked page before you. You might be envisioning a ton of people expecting you to fill it a certain way or you might fear that the well of inspiration is running dry.
Whatever your reason, I’m sure you know this fear is ungrounded. And those of us who have to produce a certain amount of words every week (for money) know that when “the muse” is hiding, you have to hack your way through it. Eventually those hacks become habits.
So let’s see how we can “hack” this…
Take a Walk
I’ve already written about the benefits of walking — it clears your mind and refreshes your memory system. It also gives you fresh ideas and helps you focus. This is why walking meetings are quite productive.
But what if you’re not * required * to take walks? What if — like me — you’re working remotely? Then you have to make walking one of your priorities. Like my friend Carl Hamlet, who walks 3 times a day, every day.
Habits form and settle in a 3-step process called “the habit loop”:
Briefly, the cue is you feeling stuck and staring at the blank page. What’s your response? Probably distracting yourself from your failure, which brings you temporary satisfaction.
Science says, replace the routine for better habits.
So next time you feel stuck, go for a walk and revisit the page once you’re refreshed. That way, the bad habit you previously had becomes a healthy one. Plus, you don’t only get temporary satisfaction, but also a dose of inspiration.
Find a Writing Buddy
A couple of weeks ago I had trouble coming up with content, so my co-founder — Mike Sutton — suggested co-writing every other day. The mere knowledge that someone else is struggling at the same time you are is somewhat comforting. Not to mention at the end of the session you have to report what you’ve managed to accomplish, which motivates you.
It’s mostly necessary for people who struggle with managing their own time. For example, because I’m a remote worker, I work alone at home and sometimes I get carried away with unimportant tasks. There is nobody to “monitor” and guide me, so I end up getting lost.
In this case your writing buddy becomes your compass. It’s even better if they live in the same town and you can arrange a meetup over coffee.
If you’re not that good at meeting people, try an online community. People there are actually very friendly and willing to pair up on projects, so why not check out some Slack groups or create your own!
The image on the left is a list of my favorite slack communities (left) and the channels in my own slack (contentheroes). I created it because I wanted to invite my favorite people and be able to reach out to them anytime.
It goes beyond twitter and skype. People say it’s even replacing IRC at work. I’m not surprised. I can’t even remember what it was like before Slack becoming a part of my every day routine. You won’t either if you try it.
Light Yourself On Fire
Just choose a topic that lights you on fire.
It’s virtually impossible to stay silent when you really care about something. If you get me started on gay rights or genetic engineering, forget it. I’m going to yap until the Sun comes down, and then back up.
When you do something with a lot of passion, you don’t stop to think about what you’re doing. Most importantly, you’re not overthinking it.
Here’s a quote from Stephen King I just love:
You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair–the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.
So psych yourself up and write about what moves you. Something controvertial or personally challenging. Even topics that seem dull to others can come alive before you if you feel something.
Make It Visually Appealing
Sometimes you need a little extra to really focus your efforts. For example, when I wrote my first novel (yet to be edited) I had to use multiple methods of outlining, like colorful sticky notes and cork-boards, and so on. The colorful aspect added a fun side to the process and it gave me additional motivation to soldier on through the hard parts (like editing and writer’s block).
Another example is Belle Beth Cooper’s content calendar. She says it helps her visualize how much work she has for the week and how she’s progressing. Not to mention it looks way more fun than regular scheduling.
Indeed, they say visualizing facilitates processes such as memory and learning, so why not use it in your writing process? You can even treat it like a project.
If you don’t have a white board, Trello comes pretty close and it has colorful labels — the digital equivalent of sticky notes. Most of us use it for work anyway, but it’s also useful for side projects and just gathering your thoughts on a subject. Not everyone will want to (or have time to) outline articles, but if it could help you fill that page, it’s worth a shot, no?
See It As It Could Be
I was going to say something cliched like “recognize the blank page for what it is: an illusion of the mind that stands in your way”, or something.
But then I realized it’s not enough to see what it actually is. It’s also important to be able to see things as they could be.
The most amazing innovations in history were things that somebody imagined before they even saw them. They were products of rich imaginations; of minds that could not settle with the way things were, but seeing thing as they could be. This is why we have computers and planes.
Now apply the same logic to the blank page. What could it become?
It could become a thrilling story or something that helps someone. It could reach people you never hoped to reach before. Or it might just reach the right person and before you know it, your vision has become reality.
And that’s the power of the blank page — it holds potential, promise.
Recognizing the blank page as something positive will definitely get you out of your rut because it is only the fear that stops you. When you acknowledge that, you’ll be able to accomplish your goal, which is not just filling the page with words and paragraphs. Your goal is to convey a message. And if that message is understood and maybe even acted on, you’ve succeeded.
Good luck, I know you can do it justice! ☺
Violeta Nedkova is a writer first, marketer second, and entrepreneur overall. She’s the co-founder of Amazemeet and fan of all communities, especially creative ones. She tweets a LOT, consults some, and blogs about startup marketing.