How to Own the Blank Page
Moving past the fear and anxiety of not doing it right.
Writers have one well known nemesis. It’s the root of all kinds of evil things, like writer’s block and a missing muse.
The blank page is a writer’s kryptonite, capable of bringing us to our knees.
The blank page represents all the choices we have to make.
It can trigger a major case of FOMO.
What if I decide to write this middle grade book, but really that romance novel that’s been on my back burner is the thing that would be my breakout?
What if I start writing this book and it sucks and I waste all this time I could have been working on something else?
What if no one wants to read my blog post? What if another idea would have made me more money? What if, what if, what if . . .
The blank page triggers our deepest anxieties.
It takes such a huge dose of audacity to be a writer. We have to make something out of nothing, in the hopes that strangers will want to spend their time (and maybe their money) reading it. And often we have to do it with almost no feedback until we’ve already done it.
Pretty much every writer I know owns a collection of beautiful notebooks that gather dust on a shelf. They’re afraid of writing badly in a lovely book. They don’t want to ruin that special notebook, so they write in something cheap instead.
They’re afraid they aren’t good enough to use their good notebooks.
I’ve been a professional writer since 1996 and I have my own collection of beautiful notebooks I’m afraid to write in.
We can’t fail if we don’t start.
If there’s a profession that comes with more rejection than writing, I don’t know what it is.
I’m listening to the audio version of Ron Perlman’s memoir right now, so I thought — well, acting comes with a lot of rejection. But you know what? Usually actors go to one audition at a time. Writers send out batches of query letters and the rejections come in waves. Sometimes there are days when you’re on submission when it feels like you’re drowning in rejection.
Every time I’ve signed with an agent, I’ve received form rejections (Dear Author . . .) for weeks after I’ve signed that contract and even after that agent has sold my book.
We can’t be rejected for something we don’t write and it makes perfect, sane sense that our brains give us pause before we subject ourselves to being told over and over that we’re not good enough.
The blank page can kick up the fear that we won’t ever have a good enough idea.
This used to be a biggie for me. I never had more than one idea at a time. The whole time I was writing one book, I was operating with this terrifying certainty that I’d never have another good idea again.
I have actually figured out how to stop that, which is a major relief. It’s been a long time since I worried about running out of ideas. (I think anyone can fix that, actually. Because ideas are not finite.)
But I know what it feels like to avoid the blank page because it just reminds you that you can’t think of anything worth saying.
Here are the best ways I know to deal with the blank page.
A) Cultivate a writing habit by making a teeny, tiny goal and sticking to it. Mine is ten minutes a day. Sometimes thinking about the little steps that make up your whole goal (a little bit of writing today vs. writing an entire novel) can make all the difference.
B) Be okay with writing total crap. Seriously, the first draft has one job — to give you something to edit. So don’t worry if it needs editing. It’s supposed to.
C) Be a rebel writer. Teach yourself to love the blank page. Embrace that thing as a representative of all the stories you have to tell. When you feel anxiety kicking up, remind yourself that the blank page is your friend.
D) Turn yourself into an idea machine. Knowing that you have an infinite number of stories to tell makes using up a good one less terrifying.
E) If you’re a pantser who gets blank page syndrome, try plotting. Taking away the anxiety over what to write next can help.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s represented by Elizabeth Bennett at Transatlantic Literary Agency and her most recent book is The Astonishing Maybe. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the original Ninja Writer.