Fighting the Blank Page – How to Beat Writer’s Block

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Writer’s block – it happens to the best of us. You are brimming with the desire and motivation to write, but the spectre of the blank page has you sitting at your writing implement du jour in pure terror.

The white page syndrome is not an affliction unique to creative writers and aspiring authors – it happens to artists staring at a blank canvas, architects at a blank sheet, policy writers at a blank screen. For me, the white page syndrome is a function of three very specific preconceptions and perspectives:

1. ‘Nothingness’ is immense – The white page can sometimes seem infinite. It goes on forever and forever… and ever. Unless you do something to mark it. Similarly, the options for combatting the white page are also seemingly limitless. Where do you start? What do you choose?

2. The white page is purity – The white page is perfect in its nothingness. An icon of purity. White as the driven snow, virginal and untouched. And who might you be to think you can interrupt its purity with something that will always be less than its white perfection?

3. The white page offers no hints – With all the universe and beyond to choose from in selecting the words that will spill from your mind to the page, how do you figure out the write ones to end the nothingness and break the purity? The white page doesn’t help you, it just sits there mocking you with its never-ending emptiness.

 

I find the first two problems easier to combat:

1. Limit your choices – Before you start writing, narrow down your choices. It’s the same with all decisions in life – what should I have for dinner, where do I plan my next holiday, what shirt should I wear, what book should I buy next? Rather than rattle through a hundred or so options that are easily available, narrow them down. What should I have for dinner? Thai, Italian or Japanese? Chicken, Pork or Lamb? Chips and Salad or Veges and Mash? Where do I go for my next holiday? Beach, Countryside or Snow? Europe, Africa or Middle East? Cultural Hub or Natural Wonderland? 

Choosing between two or three options is much easier than struggling with a hundred. And each choice will lead to related ones, until you’re in Cuba sipping on mojitos and eating bbq pork with sauce dripping down your fingers.

2. Pop that cherry – First times are typically and universally awkward. Make it easier on yourself and just put anything on that page to take away the pressure of interrupting the white. Draw a squiggle or smiley face in your notebook. Type out a row of asterisks, change the background of your page to an ugly vomit green, mash your hands on the keyboard to bring up a garbled mess as a header paragraph. Things can only get better from there.

 

My solution to the third problem has only dawned upon me recently. And I love it:

3. FInish (and, therefore, start) mid-sentence – I used to finish my writing spells at clear breaks – at the end of a beat, scene or chapter. But all that did was introduce a new beginning – a new white page, if you will – for me to conquer the next time. Beginnings are tough.

When I was in school, my favourite activities were the ones where the teacher would give me a piece of paper with one half of a dissected image and I would fill in the other side.

Or the ones where she would start a story with a sentence and the kid next to her would write the next, and the kid next to him would write the next, and so on until it was my turn to add the next piece.

It’s easier to be creative when you have a starting point to build on. So, recently, I have stopped my writing process mid-sentence. To give you an example – tonight’s writing session ended with this:

He sits closer to her, his shoulder resting lightly against her own. This close she can see

What? What can she see? I don’t know yet, either. It’s like a mini cliffhanger for myself. Instead of the thing that makes me turn the page or tune in next week, it’s the thing that will ramp up my eagerness to write tomorrow. I won’t have to struggle with the blank page, because there is a springboard for me to jump off, a starting point full of unknowns and promise.

And that, dear reader, is how I plan to beat writers block.

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Fighting the Blank Page – How to Beat Writer’s Block

We need some space…

by Mikhaeyla Kopievsky

Space-Heartbreak-Novel-Mikhaeyla-Kopievsky
Space doesn’t have to end in heartbreak
(Image courtesy of Nicolas Raymond, via Flickr Creative Commons, http://bit.ly/1rsQkxp)

It’s the phrase that you dread when you’re in a relationship, the thinly-veiled euphemism for a breakup by someone who is too kind or cowardly to deliver the coup de grace. It spells the end of hanging out together, spending time together, being together. They find other things more fun, more important, more interesting. Or maybe they just find the whole relationship (or you) too claustrophobic.

I’ve been there recently…with my WIP, Divided Elements (and with my blog readers, for which I deeply apologise).

It wasn’t my WIP (or you), it was me.

A new job, a challenging university degree and a new city meant that time was limited and working on Divided Elements was something that I couldn’t justify. Like splurging on a meal at Osteria Francescana when you’re struggling to pay the rent. I knew what I would rather be doing, but sometimes what you have to do and what you want to do don’t see eye to eye.

When I sat down this past week to pick up where I left off, I was worried that the manuscript would be a stranger to me, that I wouldn’t be able to fall back into the mindspace and rhythm I had built and nurtured in the months prior. What I discovered was the opposite.

Reading back over my WIP, I found myself engrossed in the story – approaching it as a reader and not a writer. This had two major advantages – 1) I could get lost in the storyline and connect with my characters as though meeting them for the first time, and 2) I could more easily locate the holes, inconsistencies and lags.

While cliched, not seeing the forest for the trees is a real thing. It reminds me of that scene in Ferris Bueller, where up close a Seurat painting is blobs of paint and from a distance a complex picnic scene. The closer you look at it, the more you look at it, the less you are able to perceive it.

Image
Perspective is all about how close you stand

Getting some space from Divided Elements gave me a new opportunity to see it in a new light and to rekindle my fire for writing it. In this case, absence definitely made the heart grow fonder (and not the fond heart wander).

So the WIP is once again a work in progress. Writing (for now) is coming easier – I know how to take the story where I want it to go and I am distant enough from the flaws to edit them without reproach. And, I am now a fan of some space 🙂

Space-Beautiful-Mikhaeyla-Kopievsky
Space can be beautiful
(Image courtesy of Aftab Uzzaman, via Flickr Creative Commons, http://bit.ly/TH4Hzd)

 

We need some space…