Updated: Oct 4, 2021
There’s a certain feeling that accompanies a blank page. Whether you’re a writer or an artist or any kind of inventor, having a blank page symbolizes potential. Beautiful, raw potential. This could define your life, the moment of pure genius. So you can’t mess it up, right? WRONG! Mess up. Mess up horribly. As inspiring as a blank page is, it also instills a sense of terror of not being “good enough.” So here’s what you have to do to get over the blank canvas jitters.
1) Make a thing
Forget about making something perfect and beautiful for a moment. Make something easy and fun. It can be silly, flash fiction, an idea page, whatever your hands can do without clamming up in fear. Maybe that small idea will grow, maybe it will inspire a different idea, the most important thing is it will get you writing without fear. Defenders of Radiance: The Ajoiner Realm started out as a ten page short story to get me out of some writer’s block years ago. Now it is the start of a projected five book series with scores of additional content to follow. I honestly don’t remember where the seed idea for my series came from. Over time, it grew into its own universe. If you need to use a writing prompt, go for it! This is the perfect time to write out the ideas that were generated by a few words.
2) Don’t expect perfection the first go around
Any expectation you have for what you want your writing to be throw it out when you look at that blank page. Having the mindset that whatever you write will be what it is and accepting it as it is tremendously improves your ability to clack away at the keyboard. This happens because when we let go of what we think needs to happen and just let the words go, our minds direct what needs to be said. Yes, sometimes you’ll have to backspace over entire paragraphs, but in the end the words came out, and you figured it out. The other aspect of this to be aware of is not expecting a version of your work that’s seen five rewrites and half a dozen beta readers to write itself the first time you write. It would be ridiculous to expect a freshman track athlete to perform on the same level as a senior athlete. The same can be said for writing. You can spend years studying perfect grammar, writing styles, and all the endless streams of writing blogs (like this one), but the first words you put on a page will always be rough compared to the words you write years after. And that is OKAY all starts have their needs for improvement.
3) Outlines vs Voices
For some writers structured outlines can help them get their footing on their stories if you love having a plan you can fall back on I highly recommend it. Here’s a link to a master class article that gives awesome details about how to outline and the different types of outlining. For those of you that are like me and don’t like being told what to do (Even if it was past you telling you what to do… yeah, we’re gonna roll with that), voices are probably more your strong suit. When I first started writing The Ajoiner Realm characters walked onto the set and just kinda announced “I’m here!” They started doing things with or without my permission, and their personalities grew. This process is great when you’re comfortable just writing for yourself (We’ll go into more detail in number 5). Letting go of what you expect from a story allows the plot and the characters to come to life and act as they will. Filling out character sheets are great if you’re not sure how to get started. I find it really helps to imagine having an interview with them. What are they wearing? How do they respond to questions? How are they sitting? Or throw them in a box, don’t give them anything to do, or anywhere they need to go. How do they react? I can tell you from personal experience this method is incredibly entertaining. Some of my characters handle being taken away from the story much better than others, and some absolutely cannot handle boredom.
4) The Truth of it
Here’s the thing, there’s a vast difference between writing based on a rubric and carefully structured guidelines that are forced on you and writing what’s in your heart. Sounds cheesy, I know, but it’s true. Excessive rules intended to provide regulations and standards dampen the creative process of the individual. Yes, some people need extra structure, and in an academic setting having a standard makes sense, but it doesn’t account for the beauty that can grow beyond page counts, and perfect obedience to the rules. Understanding of the rules of writing is essential to effectively convey a message and to effectively be broken. There are times when writing technically incorrect drives a point home more firmly. My personal favorite rule to break (very sparingly, mind you) is repetition. Here’s a sneak peek from Defenders of Radiance: The Ajoiner Realm featuring Lillian and Warren.
“Lillian hated herself. She hated that she was keeping Warren from finding his friend. She hated that she couldn’t pull herself together. She hated that she was getting snot all over Warren’s shirt. Despite hating herself for it, she couldn’t pull away. She couldn’t let him go.” (Carroll, Defenders of Radiance: The Ajoiner Realm)
Ordinarily, repeating “She hated” and “she couldn’t” would be a no-no, but in this scene it adds real emotion of heartbreak and frustration with her own weakness that anyone can identify with.
Learn the rules, study the rules, that way you can break them into the throne beneath you.
5) Write for You
Personally, I think this is the most important one. If you write to appease any social group other than the one in your mirror your writing grows flat. Tell whatever story lives in your soul. Make it as bubbly or as grim as it needs to be to satisfy what you feel. For me, I needed to know that a small team of heroes with mud in their pasts could fight off an oppressive darkness. I needed it to give me hope for the world and for myself. So whatever resonates with your soul write that, even if the first draft is crap.