How to overcome blank screen fear when blogging
Sometimes writers often try to work out what they want to say before writing it down. So they try to do all the work in their head before applying fingertips to keyboard.
I’ve done this. I do this.
Sometimes it works and the words flow out - but sometimes it doesn’t.
Last week I really struggled to start my Patreon essay. And if you’ve seen my vlog on IGTV (no.4 - 30th September) you’ll see me with my head in my hands, frustrated and dejected, saying this essay ‘ain’t going nowhere’.
One of the hardest things for both an experienced writer and a beginner is the blank page. It can be incredibly daunting. Maybe it’s a notebook with unblemished, lined sheets. Or a computer with the cursor blinking menacingly at you.
So, what do you do if the words don’t come? What if you’re staring at the blank screen; becoming increasingly frustrated because you can’t find clarity/your point/tone/your inspiration?
When I’m staring at a blank page and struggling I try to work it out through the very act of writing and not through the thinking. Like peeling the onion. Only in reverse as you’re adding layers of words and not taking them away.
The first draft of the essay I just wrote some thoughts down. I knew it wasn’t going to get used in the final draft but I had to get these down in order to process what I was trying to say. This turned out to be a kind of chronological list. Useful but not in any shape or form an essay. Again, in my vlog you’ll see me printing this off, then flipping it over to write in pen on the back.
I’ll literally get really simple and write ‘what I’m trying to say here is...’ I’ll ask myself a series of questions. Why is this important? Why do I feel so strongly about it? I’ll get those feelings down as bullet points or as random words or disjointed sentences. Letting my fingers do the thinking rather than my head.
For the essay amongst my scribblings I also wrote four sentences with arrows meaning one followed another so I could see how the essay was going to be structured.
Authors talk about the shitty first draft. This is getting thoughts and ideas down. Where the author is telling themselves the story. The subsequent drafts, and this can easily go into double figures, is where the story appears as a coherent narrative. It’s crafted. Sculpted. Like art. Writing a blog post, or, in my case, an essay, is the same process.
If you’re trying too hard it might not come. If your head is full of other stuff (reading lots of tweets, taking on other people’s thoughts, joining in with online dramas, getting cross with a politician) then you are not allowing space for the blog post to breathe.
Go for a walk. Have a shower. (In my experience ideas always come when you have no pen and paper to hand). If you’ve got the gift of time then leave it for a few days. Let your subconscious do the hard graft. Do other things that don’t involve screen time. I do something in the garden or clean out the chickens! You might find a sentence comes to you. Then another. Write them down. Use the notes function on your phone, dictate to it or write it in a small notebook.
For me, after working on my essay all week but not finding that spark - it came to me at 10pm on a Friday night just before I was going to fall asleep. Not just the tone of the piece but the first sentence, too.
I woke up in the morning and wrote two pages in my notebook.
Sometimes you just have to trust yourself.