Overcoming The Blank Page

Who among us hasn’t experienced that terror of the blank page? Here are some tips for getting over this common, normal hurdle:

  1. Make the page not blank. At its simplest, simplest level, this fear can be one of getting startedof facing that blank page. So put any kind of writing on that page: free-write, outline your thoughts, or even write out your fears/frustrationsi.e. those fears/blocks that are going through your mind at the moment. Any of these will suffice to make the page not blank anymore, which can help us ease into the groove of writing.
  2. Write an outline. Some people prefer to free-write or write a rough draft first, and reverse-engineer an outline later. For others (myself included), outlining can be a good first step toward breaking that blank-page fear. Your outline can be as sparse or detailed as you wish; the point here is less to have a stellar outline and more to get your writing juices flowing.
  3. Talk it out (and then transcribe). Sometimes, when you’re stuck, talking out loud about your ideas, or even your thoughts/feelings about the project more broadly, can be easier than committing words to paper. If this is true for you, try talkingto yourself, peers, an adviserand record yourself while talking. Then either transcribe directly from your recording, or use your recording as a blueprint for an outline or draft.
  4. Find models/templates. This can be especially helpful when you’re tackling a new form of writing: say, you’re writing a personal statement, conference abstract, or CV for the first time. Looking at real examples of such forms can help get you started, and give you a blueprint of where to go (mimicking and drawing inspiration from others is okay in writing as long as it doesn’t veer into plagiarism). Ask friends if they’re willing to share their own examples; see if your program offers any; you can even search (selectively) online. And if it’s not your first time writing this kind of document, then find one you wrote before and use that as a template!

Additional Resources

Rachel Toor addresses the topic of writer’s block really well in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Berkeley’s Student Learning Center has great advice here.

The Purdue Online Writing Lab also has a great section on overcoming writer’s block.