Staying Sharp: Seven Ways to Start Writing When The Blank Page is Staring You Down

By: Taylor Gaines

You sit down to write. You don’t have any particular goal. You know the importance of writing, and you’re trying to get in the habit of doing it to get better every day. You just want to write.

But there it is. The blank page — taunting you. The blinking cursor staring back at you angrily, mocking you with its consistent appearing and disappearing pattern as you inconsistently pound away at the keyboard every few minutes. Facebook is just a click away, ready to take you on a journey that you know you will enjoy. And maybe you won’t like writing anyway. Why not…

Stop right there. You don’t know where to start. I get that. I struggle with the blank page (even the thought of the blank page!) as much as the next person.

So, here, let me give you some ideas. Let’s get the blood flowing, the gears turning, and the fingers moving. I’ve compiled a few different ideas, some bigger and some smaller, to try to help get things going. And remember, you should just write what comes to you. Don’t hesitate, double-back, or delete stuff over and over. Just keep pumping out sentences. You can always fix it later.

Let’s start with the serious, personal stuff and finish with some more fun, specific stuff.

DEEP THOUGHTS

What’s Going On? Journal

What’s happening in your life? In the world? Why do you care? This is basically the old-fashioned journal approach. Write about the things you see going on around you. Tell stories about things that happened to you. Think through things that you’re going through by writing them down and verbalizing your thoughts. This will help you develop a stronger writing voice and put things into perspective.

Ponder Life’s Big Questions

Who am I? What is the meaning of life? Is there life on Mars? Am I living in the Matrix? Everybody thinks about questions like these at some point. Why not help process and organize your thoughts by writing them down? You can even come up with entertaining and fantastical answers as well. Go wherever your mind takes you.

Analyze Whatever You’re Reading or Watching

Maybe it’s a book, a movie, a TV show, a YouTube video, or a story you read in the paper — er, online. Whatever it may be, just sit down and write your thoughts on that thing. Analyze the latest episode of your favorite TV show. Consider the decisions that went into writing the mystery novel you’re reading. Rave about your favorite actor’s performance from the movie you saw last night. Write a counterpoint to the column you read.

Like the first two points, doing things like this will not only help you have things to write about, it will help you figure out the way your brain works and the way you like to think about things. It will also help you to develop a stronger, more authoritative voice when you’re defending your opinions.

FUN TIMES

Write Stories from the Police Blotter

This is a fun one that my writing teacher used to make our class do. All you do is look up a police blotter (like this one), find an item that interests you, and write about it.

A couple examples:

“6/1/16   Wed   1328   Abandoned Vehicle – Officer investigated an abandoned vehicle that miraculously became un-abandoned when police made inquiry. “

“5/29/16   Sun   0435   Welfare Check – Caller was concerned for her little brother who had been fired from a local processing plant. The officer was able to alleviate her fears.”

“5/31/16   Tue   1446   Animal – Local homeowner requested a cat trap to capture a nuisance feline that was distressing her cats.”

Think of the possibilities. You can make up crazy sci-fi stories about the events that led to a vehicle becoming “miraculously un-abandoned.” You can write a melodramatic tale of a young man fired from his local processing plant and the effects it has on his life. You could tell a story from the perspective of a cat about a “nuisance feline” that’s ruining its life. The bones are there for some fun, creative stories; you just need to fill in the meat.

Write Stories That Don’t Make Sense 

Imagine things that can only exist in your writing, and tell those stories. Write about the Easter Bunny terrorizing an entire city. Talk about a great white shark that does community service and helps the elderly. Picture a world where dishwashers are humans and humans are dishwashers. Find something that might only make sense in your head, and let your creative juices flow. This will infuse your stories with distinctive, fantastical characters.

Tell the Story of a Song

Go on [insert music streaming service here], and pick a song at random. Listen to it. Take in its tone and its lyrics. Think about how it makes you feel. Then, try to tell the story behind it. What happened to the writer that made them write this song? What’s the point? There is a lot of creative freedom to this, and you can really go wherever your mind takes you.

A Day in the Life

Think about someone you really like or are interested in. It could be a real person, like an athlete or movie star, or it could be a favorite character of yours from a book or movie. Imagine what fills that person’s day. Write about what that person does from the moment he or she wakes up to the moment he or she goes to sleep. You can make up any details you want. Answer crazy questions you’ve always wondered about. Does the president ever actually sleep? Where does Leonardo DiCaprio go out to eat? What’s on Winnie the Pooh’s daily to-do list?


Remember to enjoy yourself while you’re writing. Your best, most interesting writing will certainly be from the stuff that you enjoyed working on the most. Think of it this way: If you enjoyed writing it, your audience will probably enjoy reading it.

Write away!

What are some fun things you like to do when writing? Let us know in the comments below! 

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