If you find staring down a blank page frightening, know you’re
in good company. It’s a common issue for writers, from students writing their
first term paper to multi-published authors. Putting those first clumsy words
down, digging for the unknown parts of your scene, and wondering if the final
product will live up to your imagination can be disconcerting. In fact, starting
the day’s writing is often likened to diving headlong into a cold sea. Here are
a few tips that may help you warm up to the writing when the water looks too
1) Start early
in the day. Your mind is at its best after a good night’s sleep, and while you’re
still close to your dreaming subconscious. Even if all you can give in the
morning is half an hour before heading off to work, getting a few paragraphs
written gives you that dose of courage that makes you feel as if you can finish
the scene later in the day.
2) Jot down a
few notes beforehand. Having the skeleton of what you’ll write gives you a
good start, even if you veer off in different directions later. I’m no
outliner, but writing down a few key points for the scene ahead gives me the
feeling that I’m not staring into an abyss when I begin.
3) Remember the
first draft is just the clay. It’s rough. It’s flawed. And that’s okay.
Later you’ll mold it into something better, once you’ve got the first draft in
place. As the popular Nora Roberts quote goes, “I can fix a bad page, but I
can’t fix a blank one.”
4) End your
day’s writing in mid-stream. This was Hemingway’s technique. By leaving his
day’s work in the middle of a scene, he guaranteed that he wouldn’t be coming
in cold for the next day’s work.
5) Prime the
pump. Begin writing, even if it’s not your story. Steinbeck warmed up by writing a letter
to his editor each day before starting his work on East of Eden. I’ve
heard of other novelists who start the day with a journal entry, random lists
of words or even a haiku to get the words flowing.
6) Write quickly.
Too much thought might be what holds you back. Writing fast allows your
subconscious to take over, and you could be surprised at what it brings to the
7) Focus on the
page, not the novel. A page per day makes for a 365-page novel in a year,
but only facing the day’s work, not the entire project makes it less overwhelming.
8) Remember the
joy. Writing comes with a lot of challenges. But what excites you about the
scene you’re about to write? What is particularly fun, beautiful or interesting? Focus on that, and you'll be more eager to show up at your computer.
9) Read and read
some more. Read poetry. Read fiction. Read non-fiction. And you’ll be so
saturated with words and ideas, you’ll have the material to work with. Many
authors start their writing time by reading something short. Once you’ve
started stacking up the pages, you may even want to read a page or two of your favorite
already-written scenes to remind yourself you can do this thing.
consistently. If possible, write daily at the same time in the same place.
Our brains may rear and buck when they feel like we’re taking on something new (a/k/a scary),
but once we’ve built the habit, our mind is more likely to face the blank page with
There are probably dozens of other ideas where those came
from. Ask other writers. But most importantly, ask yourself: what gives you the
courage to begin a fresh scene?