How to Break the Blank Page Wall

Don’t fear it — fill it.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

A person’s soul made solid.

Kindling for the burning thoughts of the next generation.

Gears that turn the clock at the center of the universe.

Sometimes hard.

Oftentimes easier than it should be.

Well, I think it begins at the beginning. My writing is already there, whether I have a pen in hand or my notebook spread open in front of you.

Every person is the sum total of their experiences. I’ve found that the more and more varied experiences I have will help dictate the richness of my imagination to a degree.

Trigger warning: Things get a tad grim in the next paragraph.

An interesting thought experiment posed by Tim Urban at asks us to imagine what it would be like to be someone deprived of ALL sensory input. That’s a nightmare, right? Any way you look at it, it’s not a fate you would wish on anyone. It takes a person of incredible fortitude to overcome even the lack of a couple senses (see the powerful story of Helen Keller, who was deaf and blind and managed to accomplish so much despite that).

Tim asks his readership to contemplate this scenario. Would a consciousness even be able to form if it wasn’t for sensory input?

The consensus seems to be that no, without at least some way to interact, to EXPERIENCE, there would be nothing there. A “you” could never develop.

And so let’s take that onward and say that someone is lucky enough to have enough of their senses that they do end up becoming conscious. What happens if suddenly, at the age of 10, you have some terrible accident or witness something so awful that you become catatonic.

Without ongoing, continuing experiences of your own, as a youth, and then young adult, and on and on through your life, what would happen?

You stay the same. You remain locked into that last step in your life journey. Without the ability to gather more experience, you are trapped.

That could be called a basic writer’s philosophy. It’s a way that I try living, and think it helps inform my art.

There is no guarantee that living a certain way or doing any one specific thing will always get me the results, the productivity I want, but even if trying to live an exciting, experience-filled life doesn’t help words just spill out of my pen or keyboard, I will at the very least still have those experiences.

What I’ve done has become part of me, and will always be.

So if (when) I find myself looking at a white wall of nothingness, and I need to write something but don’t have pages queued up behind my eyelids just ready to be dashed out, what are some things that I do in that moment to get myself started?

Quickly stand up and start moving. Move how I feel right then and there. If anyone can see me, that’s even better. At least they’ll get a weird memory out of the experience! Maybe their reactions can be even more inspiration. Do I know the Robot? The Macarena? Hand Jive? Memphis Jookin’? Can I pop & lock, break, or tap? Yes please. Movement works to grease the brain with endorphins and memories.

When I find myself stumped, I try to “jump levels” in my writing. Have I been writing from an eagle’s-eye view, moving plot and character forward but not going into heavy description? Switch gears and just start detailing the scene, every little movement and sense happening. If I’m stuck on details, I flip over to the bigger picture and start pushing forward on plot.

Sitting where I am, I just start speaking. Speak about anything, whatever comes to my mind first. It may be nonsense or gibberish, or it could be Shakespeare’s “To be, or not to be…” or one of comedian Patton Oswalt’s funniest bits. The act of speaking and hearing words could start a snowball effect for me.

I might already have a kernel of and idea for what I want to write, or maybe I have a writing prompt to go off of. If I have a starting point, I can then begin plotting out a course, or various possible course, for where I might be able to take it. I think of this as brainstorming, where I don’t judge the ideas. Just jot down steps that I can take. Build a branching outline, like a “choose your own adventure”, and see how far I can take it.

Do I have a muse? Or just a buddy who likes to talk a lot? Someone I regularly bounce ideas off of, or just like to listen talk about the general wackiness of their daily antics? I’ll call them up. No, I don’t text them. This is an emoji-free zone. The entire point here is for me to get some fresh input and perspective. This is what I think of as the “cliff machine” effect. Do you know those ridiculous yet tempting arcade machines where piles of tokens, gift cards, dollar bills or whatever are sitting on a little shelf with little pusher arms constantly threatening to dump them over the ledge and (hopefully) out into your waiting, greedy hands? My muse (and yours) is those pusher arms.

If none of the above seems to do the trick, I might just need to leave. Literally, get up, leave my house, apartment, office, basement dungeon, go outside and do something else. It may be that I need the stimulation, or perhaps some inspiration. I should probably have called this section “Shuns”, because perspiration is another thing that could help. I’ll do something active. Get on with my day or make a new one. When I return to that mocking blank page, I may just be able to fill it.

Now these suggestions are just starting to sound like wrestling finishing moves, aren’t they? What I mean by “spine cracker” is that luscious sound some new books make when you open them up and the glue breaks just so. I don’t need to read an actual, real book for this to work — I can open my Kindle app instead — but holding a few ounces to a couple pounds of pressed wood pulp in my hands may be better for my memory than poring over pixels. It’s a generally accepted rule of thumb that to get better at writing a person should get better at reading, so following this tip might just inspire you and get you in the mood to do some creating of your own.

Where words fail, music speaks. — Hans Christian Andersen

Time to crank up some of my favorite tunes, whether they be from Baez, Bono, or Bach. Or maybe I’m in the mood for one of my preferred movie soundtracks, like that from Raiders of the Lost Ark or Superman: The Movie. Sounds generate emotion, and emotion generates comprehension. I let the music speak through me by unlocking doors in my memory that I might not have considered opening for days, months or years.

Thank you for reading and sharing!

Startup product manager. Sci fi, Fantasy and Science writer.

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