The blank page is a nightmare.
The great 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 an idea, the writer is desperate for a way to get it down.
The pain of facing a blank page might be cured by facing what you’re not doing.
And what you’re not doing is three simple moves that can help correct this ancient problem.
1. You’re not researching
Did you think you could pull good writing out of a starry 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.
Old-school copywriters subscribed to and read every newspaper and magazine around. They had bulging physical libraries.
You have the internet.
2. 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.
3. You’re not living
Every mill needs grist.
Unrelenting failure, the perfect burger, arguments with family, a moment in a bookstore, and walking down a dirt road with your faithful dog. It all goes into the vault, and some of it is ultimately spent on the page.
Good experiences and bad, they can all work for you. If you’re wondering how (and if) this actually works in the real world, read and study Ben Settle.
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. This is how you can fall for writing again — a simple commitment to the daily practice of your craft.
A blank page is calling to you right now.
What’s your answer?
Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on November 1, 2011.