Every writer knows that terrible feeling of staring at a blank screen or an empty page with no idea of what comes next. Here are ten pro tips that will help you beat the blank screen.
1. Write something else.
If you’re hopelessly stuck on your current project, take a break and shift gears. Write a letter to a friend, email someone you’ve been out of touch with, journal your thoughts, or start a new piece of writing. Use writing exercises or prompts, even if you find them hokey—the point here is to get the words flowing.
Moving your body can be a fantastic way to jump-start your brain! Head outside for a walk or run, mow the lawn, go for a bike ride, or hit the gym. I do my best thinking while I’m running—the more I work up a sweat, the better my ideas! Physical activity can help ideas that are percolating bubble to the surface, with the added bonus that it’s good for you.
3. Accomplish an unrelated task.
If you’re feeling as though you’re getting absolutely nothing done, frustration can build up and make it even more difficult to start working. Walk away from your computer for a bit and tackle a small, tangible project—clean your bathroom, organize a shelf, file some papers.
4. Write in chunks.
Distance runners use a great trick to keep themselves motivated. Rather than thinking about all the miles ahead of them, they’ll pick an object—say, a tree—in front of them and set that as their next goal. When they’ve reached that tree, they’ll run to the next one. You can apply this to your writing as well. Don’t think about how much work it will take to reach the final page; tell yourself that for now, you’re just writing a paragraph. When that paragraph is done, it’s time to write the next one. Breaking your work up into manageable chunks can help you feel as though you’re really getting somewhere.
5. Give yourself a deadline.
Most of us work better when we’re under pressure. If you’re not writing for an outside assignment, be your own mean boss. Setting tough but realistic deadlines can help you stave off procrastination.
6. Free yourself to write badly.
It’s all too easy for us to put pressure on ourselves, and feel like failures when the results don’t live up to our expectations. Remember, a first draft is just that—a first draft. Don’t worry about what is or isn’t working for now—what matters is that you’re writing! Give yourself the freedom to make mistakes, wallow in purple prose, go off on tangents, or churn out dreadful dialogue. The point is to get words down on the page—perfection is what revision is for!
Sometimes coming up with an outline can help alleviate the terror of the empty page. With an outline, you’re not putting a story together from scratch—you’re just filling in the blanks. I like to develop elaborate outlines, especially for my fiction projects—I almost never stick to them, but I find it tremendously helpful to start with a backbone and then flesh it out as I work.
8. Try a full-screen writing program.
Various writing-specific programs offer you full-screen options that black out or hide the rest of your desktop as you’re working. These include free downloadable text editors for both the PC and Mac, and sophisticated writing programs like Scrivener. Turning your computer into a writing-only tool while you’re working can help you stick to your goals.
9. Turn off the Internet.
If you’re like me, the Internet can be an all-too-tempting distraction—before I know it, I’ll have lost an entire hour to “research”! Freedom is a free downloadable app for both Windows and Mac that locks you away from the Internet for up to eight hours at a time.
10. Set a schedule—and stick to it!
You’ll hear the same advice over and over from successful writers—the only way to get the job done is to sit down and do it! Set a schedule that’s realistic for you, whether that’s writing two hours every day or two hours a week, and hold yourself to it. Many people find it helpful to write at the same time every day; others prefer to grab time here and there as it’s available. Whatever it takes!