How to Win a Stare Down with the Blank Page

You can’t think yourself out of a writing block,
you have to write yourself out of a thinking block.
– John Rogers, Kung Fu Monkey, 06-25-11

The blank page can be intimidating. And when you get into a staring down with it, you know you’re gonna be the first to blink. (You’re the one with eyelids.)

So, type with your eyes closed.

This won’t work for editing, proofreading, revising, child watching or any other task that requires your close attention to detail.

But if you need to brainstorm or start a first draft, this could be your magic bullet.

It gives you:

Focus
You literally can’t see temptation. No email, no laundry, no dirty dishes. It’s just you, your brain and your keyboard. Tunnel vision at its finest (pun intended).

Introspection
This sort of self-induced sensory deprivation leaves you with only your thoughts for company. And writing as your only course of action. If something’s bothering you, this drags that little gremlin out of hiding and puts it in the spotlight.

The Win
The blank page can’t stare you down if you’re not looking at it. And when you open your eyes after putting words to the page, that page is no longer blank. You took the hardest step. You started writing.

Here’s an excerpt from what I wrote yesterday with my eyes closed.

(Note: Ambient sounds were bugging me, so I also had my noise-canceling ear buds in and whale songs playing on my iPod. Loved it.)

Today I give myself permission to write crap. At this moment, my eyes are closed, whale songs are singing in my ears and I can’t see what I’m writing. The blank page has no power over me because I cannot see it.

Argh, I keep peeking to make sure my fingers are at least on the right keys.

Stop peeking. Okay, I’m done peeking. My fingers are on the (dang it, I peeked and edited) the right keys. Let’s get to writing.

Here’s what I know about freelancing (even though a tiny voice in my head doesn’t want to write about freelancing right now – it wants to make up stories.) So okay, let’s make up a story. A horrible story. A terrible story. Full of typos, bad grammar and horrible characters.

(And I start by editing my first sentence. Awesome. This closed-eye trick is harder than you think.)

Okay, here we go again. And I’m still peeking. If ever there was a time to write with my eyes closed, now’s the perfect time because I’m not turning this in. So I can make as many mistakes as I want. No one cares. It’s just me and the keyboard and my brain.

It’s the brain that keeps me hung up. It thinks too much. It must have a lot to say. Okay, brain. What’s up?

After a few more minutes of rambling, my brain started quick-shooting ideas for blog posts, novels, short stories and industries, markets and niches I want to explore.

I also realized that I say “okay” a lot.

And, once my brain calmed down, I discovered a wonderful character with a wonderful story that I need to write. So I kept my eyes closed and poured it on the page until I reached a comfortable stopping point. Then, I was able to move on to my day’s priorities.

Total time spent (including my rambling)? Less than 30 minutes. After that, I turned my timer off. I’d found my groove. Got everything done, had a relaxing evening and went to bed happy.

Give it a try. Tell us how you did.

6 thoughts on “How to Win a Stare Down with the Blank Page

  1. I think I would write exactly as you did…but I would have a lot more typos and wrong keys, because I would so resist the urge to look — just to be different and prove I could do it — that I wouldn’t correct and would end up with gobbledygook. Well, I know what you mean about doing a ‘brain dump’ so I am going to have to give that a try. I seem to do my best composing while driving in traffic however, and by the time I realize I have enough going that some idea seems to be working, I’ve forgotten exactly how I started and what I was doing, and I really don’t think I can teach myself to speak out loud in the car so a tape recorder can capture it, but I have heard that there are voice recognition software programs that will take those and turn them into typed documents so I should look into it as a means of capturing those lost thoughts. Of course, sometimes I’ve stopped and gotten them out, and they were still crap. Which just goes to prove that the brain is sometimes operating like it’s on crack, and that’s not always a good thing.

    • Yes, driving definitely falls under the “keep your eyes open” category. And it’s okay if what you produce is crap—all you need to do is get the juices flowing. Eventually, your best ideas will come. 🙂

      I haven’t tried voice recognition software yet. If you come across a good voice recognition software, let me know.

    • And here’s where I shamefully admit to editing out a short paragraph that was all about checking my finger position on the keyboard. And whether or not my mom had sent me a text (for brevity’s sake, of course). 🙂

      Glad you like it! Let us know it works for you.

  2. What a great exercise! I have to try this once in a while, calm my mind, let the words flow. Thanks! Also, that’s an incredible quote from Kung Fu Monkey you opened with — it sums up “writer’s block” so perfectly.

    Found your blog through MALW — I look forward to reading more 🙂

    • Hi Dana, welcome to Rubber Ducky Copywriter! Glad you like it here. 🙂

      Yes, I love Carol’s Make a Living Writing blog. I try to limit my blog intake but I’ll stick check hers practically every day.

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