Why You Hate Writing, And How to Lust After the Blank Page Again

image of blank page

The blank page is a damn nightmare.

The writers of the ages have feared it more than evil spirits, wasting disease and visiting in-laws.

Yet, if you want something to happen, you’ve got to spill the ink on that thing.

You’ve got to do it every day.

Like a detective, the writer is always digging.

And when that digging unearths ideas, the writer is desperate for a way to get them down.

The pain of facing a blank page is cured by facing what you’re not doing.

And what you’re not doing, is making three simple moves to correct this ancient problem.

You’re not researching

Did you think you could pull good writing out of a cloudy sky?

It doesn’t work that way.

You’ve got to know what you’re talking about in order to get it down well. The only way to do that is to read, listen, dig, watch, and think.

The old-school guys subscribed to and read every newspaper and magazine around. They had bulging libraries.

You have the internet.

Writing is research.

You’re not outlining

If you’re thinking about those roman numerals and endless lower-case alphabetical hierarchies, you’re thinking outlining is a chore.

Don’t do it.

A simple list of core ideas is more than enough for most of your writing process.

The goal here is to give yourself a simple map, so that your mind is free to roam within it.

Constraint is a secret of creativity.

You’re not living

Every mill needs grist.

Conversations with friends, arguments with family, long walks, stuck in traffic, lazy meals and fast drinks. It all goes into the vault, and is ultimately spent on the page.

Good experiences and bad, it all works for you.

In fact, the bad can be particularly useful. Novelist Philip Roth famously said:

Nothing bad can happen to a writer. Everything is material.

If you’re not living, you’re not writing.

How to lust after the blank page again

I got it wrong up there, at the top of this formerly blank page.

The blank page is not a nightmare. Or, at least, it doesn’t have to be.

It is a humble companion that daily demands sacrifice, commitment, and integrity. It’s doing you a favor.

You’ll fail more than you succeed, but like anything worth doing, you get up, continue, and seek your reward — which is in the practice of the craft.

The blank page is calling you to greatness.

What’s your answer?

About the Author: Robert Bruce is Copyblogger Media’s Chief Copywriter and Resident Recluse.

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Comments

  1. yah well,alot of people hate writing i dont.

  2. I think I might have soiled this pure white page. (Speak Your Mind box) Great post. Thanks

  3. I have found that starting a creative writing project, something with no goal, no plot, no idea where it is going, often helps unlock my mind. Also, to find new ideas, I sit with a pen and paper and wonder about every question I asked or a friend asked this week. Might there be an angle in any of those questions?

  4. If I’m having a hard time motivating myself to write, I hunker down for 15 minutes or so and scroll through some of my favorite blogs. It doesn’t really matter if they are related to your industry or not. The point is to just read and try to learn something new. One of those posts might provide the springboard I need to start my own writing.

  5. In 2009, I discovered that writing was my passion. Since then, I’ve been making a living writing for various clients across the web. I love writing, but it needs constant research, reading and exploration to achieve tangible success. There is so much to learn in this writing industry – Let’s keep our minds open and be ready for opportunities when they appear. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I find broad reading helps me get back into writing.

    My consumption of words definitely has an intrinsic tie to my output, and I find when I’m reading too much of the same thing, my desire to write dwindles with my desire to read.

    So that would be my contribution to this dilemma, if you are struggling with finding the motivation to write, expand the breadth of your reading and you’ll likely be inspired to write sooner than you think.

  7. Subscribing to every newspaper and magazine helps a lot. For this day and age, subscribing to several other blogs is the equivalent, and reading everyone else’s posts gives me the drive and creative spark all over again. Seeing other posts makes me want to write my own.

  8. Great post Robert. Simple. Eloquent. Intelligent. Inspirational. Also great comments from readers – not a bad way to spend a few minutes on 11-1-11. I think this is going to be a great day.

  9. Ah I like this line “The blank page is calling you to greatness”

    Every single post is a shot to greatness, and If you have something worthwhile to say make it large!

    What I have started to like about writing is that there is so much research involved into writing a good post. At the end of writing a post I become way more knowledgeable every single time. Its kind of addictive

    Frankly I can’t imagine running out of things to write about which many people complain of. If you can’t find what to write about you are too busy writing, rather than exploring.

    Writing is a culmination of that exploration, and if you explore well then you write a post which you are proud of because you distilled information for others to use. You made their life simpler.

    Many bloggers do this for me and I try do this for my readers. This feeling of providing value keeps me going

  10. I find reading a couple chapters of a book or browsing a blog in a related field can help kickstart my lust for the blank page.

    Getting together with like minded people can also help. Bouncing ideas off of one another brings excitement.

  11. The best thing I can do for the blank page (screen) is to get some words onto it. When I’m having a really rough time, I’ll set a timer for 10 minutes (normally it would be 40 or 50) and get something up there.

    Even if it’s totally wrong, once it’s on the page I can usually see what’s supposed to be there instead.

  12. “Constraint is a secret of creativity.” Great line Robert.
    I enjoyed your message here on the writer’s path. Your points make me think of breathing – that there’s an intake aspect that precedes.

  13. If you don’t enjoy writing, here’s what to do: focus on the golden 20% of your research, work with a theme, write like you talk and relax. More at http://www.stickycommunication.ca/2011/10/hate-writing-4-ways-to-make-it-fun/

  14. If I get even a phrase that resonates with me, I start a draft of a new post with it. I try to review all my drafts regularly so that I can add other phrases, words, ideas, links, etc. as I come across them. Meanwhile the new article is percolating in my subconscious as I go about my day. Those drafts become rich fodder for new writing. Workflowy dot com is another tool that’s helping me with writing; mind mapping software is another one (though it lends itself more to outlines than to the actual writing). WorkFlowy lends itself well to outlining and writing (IMO).

  15. Thanks for the cool inspiration!

  16. Thank you, thank you, thank you for addressing outlining!

    Throughout high school and college I was one of those “I hate outlining, I’ll just write and see what happens” people. And while I did fairly well, there were lots of stressful all-nighters. After graduating, I took a screenwriting class at a local community college where one of the assignments was to outline our script. I cursed, but did it. Then when it was time to write the full script, I found it SO much easier and enjoyable than most of my previous writing. I’m now a true believer in outlines. While you don’t need to detail every event/point, a rough guide helps so much.

    • Really good point.

      Even if you just write the subheads before you flesh out the whole article, you’ll have a simple skeleton in place that makes it much easier to a) finish the piece, and b) end up with something coherent.

      • Yes. Well said Sonia. As you said, if we write the important subheads before writing the article, then we can easily complete the writing in very easy manner and make our articles to read by the readers.

  17. i do not have words to praise you Robert. what a wonderful article!!
    i do not think anybody will argue with that.
    Writing is endless research. you just cannot generate ideas if you are not concentrating on this part. loved every part of it.

  18. If you don’t like writing … why the hell are you blogging.

  19. Blank screen is far worse than the blank page. SO many more distractions on a computer. I have to turn those off when I’m really stuck.

    Another strategy you didn’t mention….steal other people’s ideas. Remember Picasso’s line (which Steve Jobs referenced) – “Good artists copy; great artists steal” or something along those lines.

    In that spirit, I think I’m off to write a brilliant post about the perils of writer’s block…

  20. Research and experience are key. I find that I have a hard time getting through magazines or even picking one up, because I know it will be chocked full of information and inspiration for blogging. Great post, almost very poetic!!

  21. Thanks for the kick in the butt! So right that if you are not living you are not writing. There are topics and articles to be written everywhere if you look closely enough.

  22. Thanks for pointing me to grist. Now I have a proverb to neatly sum up my creative philosophy! :D

  23. Hi Robert
    Talk about a timely post. This morning was one of those times I could not seem to string a sentence together. Blank screen = very frustrating.
    I have to agree with your key points, reasearch and outlining definitely help (needless to say I did none of these this morning). To top it all off I have been living the life of a hermit, I seriously need to get out of the house. I have a 30th lunch at a winery all day Saturday, so looking forward to that, I am sure it will provide lots of writing fodder. I will be taking notes!
    Thanks for the article
    Cheers
    Thea

  24. Living and recounting the experience is the best writing tip for me. We are offered many lessons each day: interactions with others, observation of nature, etc……so we never have any shortage of inspiration or ideas.

    Thanks for sharing Robert!

    RB

  25. Thanks! Just what I needed today :)
    Have to finish 5 short articles and this article made it easier for me.

  26. For me, being a much better improviser than organizer, I find getting out of the gate much harder than crossing the finish line. Truthfully, I can’t tell you how many times I started a piece of work that ended up as something completely different from what I had originally intended … precisely because I let my mind go and started with something … anything. Knowing this, I keep a notepad of random ideas to write about. When faced with a blank page or screen, I might start with something I’ve previously jotted down. That usually gets my mind going, albeit ocassionally somewhere else. That’s ok though, because in a twisted way that’s sort of what I like about the creative process; I’m always up for a pleasant surprise!

  27. For me, being a much better improviser than organizer, I find getting out of the gate much harder than crossing the finish line. Truthfully, I can’t tell you how many times I started a piece of work that ended up as something completely different from what I had originally intended … precisely because I let my mind go and started with something … anything. Knowing this, I keep a notepad of random ideas to write about. When faced with a blank page or screen, I might start with something I’ve previously jotted down. That usually gets my mind going, albeit occasionally somewhere else. That’s ok though, because in a twisted way that’s sort of what I like about the creative process; I’m always up for a pleasant surprise!

  28. I live by this modo, ‘I live, I notice, I share.’ So true that if we are not living we are not writing.
    As far as the research goes, I always feel a little guilty doing research because I feel like I am reading and goofing off, but I do it anyway. Books spark ideas and as Austin Kleon says, ‘Steal Like and Artist.’

  29. I always find that taking time out from ‘working’ gets it all flowing again. Going for a walk or out for a coffee usually gives me a totally new angle and story line or experience to recount.

  30. I gotta say, sometimes researching and outline take me OUT of the writing zone and I get so distracted and caught up in the gears that the words stop flowing. Whenever I’m staring down that blank page I just start writing. I write about how I can’t write. I write about my day. And no matter what it is I’m supposed to be writing about always comes – in a few minutes or an hour. While it’s good to research and plan when you’re stuck, sometimes writing for the sake of writing can really help pull you out of that rut.

  31. Genius!

  32. I hate writing because I have to commit to each word and each sentence. Thoughts are fleeting; writing is nearly permanent by comparison, but it is a good media; at least until thoughts can be transcribed directly.

  33. The blank page syndrome happened even to big writers, and Ernest Hemingway was one of them.
    Before or later, any writer should face this problem but only inspiration and research are the right ingredients to get out from the black hole.

  34. “The blank page is calling you to greatness.”

    What an optimistic way to look at it! Like so many others, I’ve often found myself starring intently at the stark-white page on my computer screen, waiting for my initiative to kick in. I definitely appreciate the inspirational tips here. Something tells me I won’t have any trouble facing the blank page today.

  35. I enjoyed every word of this article – so simple but so valuable pieces of advice. Read, listen, discuss, think and you’ll never have the page blank:)