You know that thing where you are all “I’m totally ready to write my NaNoWriMo* pages today!” and you’ve got your writing pants on, and your beverage of choice at hand, and the dogs have been fed, and your phone is on Do Not Disturb, then you sit down at your desk, pop open your document, take one look at that empty white screen and your mind goes totally blank?
It’s the exact same feeling when you’ve practiced your speech/lines/talking points until you’ve got them down cold, but you step out on stage and all of a sudden you can’t even remember your name.
Page Fright. Sometimes known as Blank Page Syndrome.
Should you experience Page Fright, the first thing to remember is, Don’t Panic. It’s an acute but temporary condition. It arises from the same mechanism as the more chronic Writer’s Nerve Block—that is, fear and self-doubt.
Remember back when you went to sign someone’s yearbook or a greeting card, and you planned to say something clever but once your pen is over the paper, and the pressure is on because the bell is about to ring, and you don’t want to write something lame, but your mind is blank, “Have a nice summer”?
Maybe it’s some sort of genetic memory from the days of typewriters and correction ribbon, or back when monks hunched over scrolls, when making a mark on the page was a big commitment. But it’s real, if irrational, and an irrational condition cannot be reasoned with. You have to resort to trickery and mind games. Some of the tips below might seem silly, but I’m willing to bet one of these things will work for you, as sure as I am that the notes on the treble clef are Every Good Boy Does Fine.**
When a blank page makes your mind go blank, too, try these tricks:
- Make a list. Write your protagonists To Do list. Things in your POV character’s pocket/purse/backpack. Start the scene with them using one or more of those things.
- Describe the setting in detail, using all the senses. Get as detailed as you want or as you can. Bring the description in toward the protagonist like a camera. Or, start small and expand outward to find your character doing the first thing they need to accomplish in that scene.
- Type nonsense for half the page until it’s not blank anymore.
- Write some dialogue. Have two characters talk about the weather until the scene interrupts them.
- Set a timer for five minutes, put your pen on the paper (or fingers on the keyboard) and don’t pick it/them up until the timer dings. Type anything. You can start with: I don’t know what happens in this scene, but I know that… (example: Mary and John have a fight about Susan. It all starts when Mary picks up a glass of water and…)
- Start the scene with a pen and paper, then it’s already begun and when you transcribe it into the computer, you’ve got momentum.
Page fright is a pretty specific type of “Writer’s Block.” (Of course, Writer’s Block doesn’t really exist. I say this all the time, even when I’m suffering from it.) “Just write” is easy to say but hard to do sometimes. These tips are meant to get your fingers and brain moving so that you build momentum to carry you into the scene/days work.
(And hey, if you’re not writing a novel this month (or ever) these will ALSO help when you don’t know where to start writing your English paper or History essay. Just remember to go back and edit out your nonsense before you turn it in!)
*I do this thing whereI assume everyone else sips the same nectar from the social media fountain as I do, so I’ll launch into a
tirade talk about something and get blank looks. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is one of those things. But if you’re reading this blog, you are probably tapped into Book World enough that you know this is where people try to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November, and if you don’t you can click on the bold link and read about it. It’s kind of like Movember, except at the end of the month you have a book (or half a book) instead of a caterpillar on your lip. (Or you might have that, too. The last week of writing can be a little all-consuming. I don’t judge.)
**Mnemonic devices are also mind games. Face it. Half of writing is gaming our brain into the right state of… well, you know.