Why the Blank Screen Is Scary
Ah, the blank screen.
The blank screen. It’s an invitation to look foolish, to be boring, to write something that we’ll regret. Some of us can use the blank screen to scare the proverbial pants off ourselves imagining how badly we might screw things up.
The blank screen reminds us that our thoughts will be there for the world to see.
A famous Guindon Cartoon said it better.
Writing is nature’s way of letting you know how sloppy your thinking is.
Fear of a blank screen, writer’s block, really is — a subtle fear of exposure — fear that people will see things in our thoughts.
Combine that fear with the idea of marring a pure and perfect white screen, and a writer can get totally ‘whelmed. (Who needs to be overwhelmed? Feeling ‘whelmed is quite big enough for me, thank you.)
It helps to know what we’re up against.
Unblanking the Blank Screen
The key to unblanking the scary blank screen is getting something on it we want to say. Some writers can type until they know what that is. I’m not one of them.
I find freewriting visually stressful. When I do that, all I see is a blank screen getting messier and messier. All I feel is me getting more and more distracted by the problem that I don’t know what I want to write.
What I do instead is look away from the menace of the vast white space. I get up and hunt down one sentence — only one — one sentence that says something I want to say. I use questions like these to help me.
- What something have I learned or learned about lately?
- What news have I heard that I’d enjoy adding my point of view to?
- What have I read that I might want to recommend?
- What pithy comment was left on my blog this week? How might I respond?
- What pattern, behavior, trend have I noticed?
- What question do I have that I want answered?
- What skill or a technique might I teach?
- What argument might I give the pro/con to?
- What lesson have I learned this week? What funny story can I share?
- What pet peeve or problem have I got a solution to?
The possible questions are unlimited, of course. I start with these, and look through books, cabinets and drawers, and the refrigerator while I’m thinking. The moving around and looking helps my brain unfreeze.
It’s not long before a sentence warms up to me.
I go back to my computer, and I write that sentence across the screen.
The screen is not blank anymore. I’m no longer distracted by its emptiness.
Now I can get to writing.
That sentence? It often becomes my headline. When it’s not, it’s usually my last line. Can you tell which one it is this time?
What questions would you ask to help folks unblank the blank screen?
UPDATE: IF you don’t read Joe’s post Liz Had My Idea Before Me, you’ll be missing a clever and entertaining blogger’s post.
–ME “Liz” Strauss
If you think Liz can help with a problem you’re having with your writing, check out the Work with Liz!! page in the sidebar.