There is an empty page.
It can be a simple piece of notebook paper or an empty word document on a computer screen. It doesn’t matter. But it’s right there and it’s staring you in the face. It challenges you to defy it, a void of endless white that threatens to swallow whole any word you try to throw into it.
Ernest Hemingway was once asked what the most frightening thing he ever encountered was. Hemingway, a man who braved the trenches of World War I and the merciless wilderness of Africa, answered this: “A blank sheet of paper.”
This is a sentiment that every writer knows all too well. Marking a wordless page is an intimidating process, like dissecting a writhing creature pinned to a cold metal tray. The results can be unpredictable and mortifying. You go to make that first mark – that first incision into the white – and suddenly a block forms in your mind giving you severe hesitation.
How do I start? Where do I want to go? What do I want to say? What if I screw this up?
You are plagued with a multitude of questions and seemingly no answers. While you will get guidance from others, all of these things are for you alone to discover. Nobody else is going to write that paper for you or at least they shouldn’t. It must be known that writing is a journey of self discovery, and, like any journey, progress is made through a lot hard work and pulling your own weight.
Writer’s block doesn’t always begin at the beginning either. It is also a very common occurrence to get a great running start into a paper, only to hit an insurmountable brick wall. Whether the block forms at the beginning with the empty void, the middle with the wall, or even sometimes at the end, it still exists. There are two processes that I follow to resolve it, which are dependant upon what I am writing.
For one method, the first step you must take is to plunge into the unknown. Just write anything, and keep writing. There will be time later for editing and revision. It doesn’t matter if the writing is poor or disjointed at first. What matters is that you are stimulating your mind and molding it into shape. This process is critical for expressive and creative writing. It gives urgency to your voice and a genuine sense of emotion. If you spend too much time pondering over the same thoughts, they might become stagnant and come out stilted or verbose.
Expository writing, however, tends to be a different type of beast for me. It requires a more logical method than relying on pure emotions. Whenever I encounter a block during this type of writing, I simply go do something else. I might just take a nap. I could go do something both fun and relaxing. Anything is acceptable as long as it clears my mind of all its problems. During this time I try to passively observe the world and how it works. I look to the minute, the little details that connect everything. This causes the wheels in my head to turn and start making associations that I had never made before. Then, like Archimedes rising from his bath after inadvertently discovering water displacement, I reach the “Eureka!” moment and proceed to write down my thoughts as soon as possible.
However, I must warn that every writer works and thinks differently. The methods I prescribed here may not work in the same ways for everybody. I recommend that you try my methods exactly as I described them, and then switch them around. Try writing a spontaneous expository paper, or maybe a piece of fiction after a long session of meditative observation. Through experimentation and experience you may find what works best for you. But you must remain fearless and brave in the face of the void, because trying anything is better than settling with nothing.