As an aspiring author, there is nothing more frightening than the blank page. It is the great white void in which everything and anything can exist. It is like being a sailor staring across the open ocean and wondering in which direction you should sail. On the blank page, there is no map but the one that you make. This realization can be freeing but also daunting for first-time writers. The blank page can make a person feel that what they write must be profound; otherwise, there is no point. There is also the fear of writing for an extended period of time but later becoming dissatisfied with what was written, undoing hours of work. These fears have paralyzed my creativity in the past and have prevented me from writing on a number of occasions. Whether you are writing a novel, a screenplay, a comic book, or something else entirely, here are some tips for overcoming the blank page of your project.
Remember That it is Just the First Draft
One of the greatest fears that writers face is the possibility that they will spend countless hours on a project only to churn out something mediocre. This fear holds back many writers from writing their passion projects, and it becomes a great source of anxiety for them. The trick to overcoming this fear is recognizing that as the writer, you have complete control over your own writing. If you write something that you later don’t like, you can edit or remove it. If you write your piece and think of something you’d like to add afterwards, you can add it. You are not beholden to your first draft; it can be edited, reorganized, or thrown out entirely.
Most books and articles go through numerous drafts before ever seeing the light of publication. First-time writers should take this as an encouragement. Even if you find out that what you have written doesn’t meet your standards, you can change it. It is your story – you can add or take away whatever you think will help you realize your vision. If you finish the first draft of your project and are unsatisfied, that is a sign that you care deeply about the quality of your work.
With that in mind, a first draft should not be seen as the end-all-be-all. Instead, it should be an opportunity to get your rough thoughts on paper so that you have what you need to craft something special. You can always go back to fix things you don’t like, but you will never reach that stage if you don’t write a first draft to begin with.
Write Even When You Don’t Feel Inspired
Something that held me back from writing for a long time was the idea that I needed to feel a sense of inspiration in order to write. I would write when I felt like it and stop when I no longer had that feeling. This resulted in me writing in quick short bursts that would quickly run out of steam. I have many drafts for stories that are as short as one page because that is all I was “inspired” to write.
I had embraced this mentality for a long time. However, in my freshman year of college, a professor of mine said to our class, “Write even when you don’t feel inspired.” The reason he said this is because our feelings are fickle. Writing is a form of art. As such, writers can easily fall into the popular idea that art must be born out of a moment of inspiration. Pop culture romanticizes the idea that great pieces of art can only be born from huge “Aha!” moments, but this is not always realistic.
While it is entirely possible for someone to write an incredible piece in a moment of inspiration, that person is the rare exception. Writing is a process that requires discipline. Ask any professional writer and they will tell you that they would never be able to hold a job if they only wrote when they felt like it. Inspiration is a passing feeling, but the more often you write, the more often it will come to you. It may be painful to write without a feeling of inspiration, but the end result of your work will be well worth it.
Take Advice From Other Writers
Writing in isolation can be frustrating and make it easier to become disheartened with your work. Therefore, it is important to have others around you who can give you advice and encouragement. A group of friends and I recently formed a “writing accountability group” to brainstorm ideas and encourage one another forward. We are each working on our own unrelated projects, but we are able to bounce ideas off other people, as well as being encouraged to write more. This also provides us the opportunity to critique one another’s work in a way that is constructive. Constructive criticism can be uncomfortable, but it allows you to improve your skills as a writer and recognize that there is more than one way to write something.
While Hollywood romanticizes the idea of the lone writer, many of the most famous writers have friends and collaborators who helped them in their work. J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were a part of a famous literary group called “the Inklings”. The group met at the University of Oxford and was made up of writers and literary enthusiasts who discussed literature and checked each other’s writing. In my experience, writers tend to be more introverted, but having this kind of comradery can help take your writing to the next level.
Write What You Love
This is the simplest but most important piece of advice I can give. It may seem like common sense to write about what you love, but sometimes in the pursuit of finishing of our projects we as writers become dethatched from why we are writing. Many writers become so concerned about audience reception that they lose touch with their passion for writing in the first place. Keeping your readers in mind is important, but there is a difference between listening to your audience and people-pleasing. Too many writers fall into the pitfall of altering their works due to outside pressure and their writing feels impersonal as a result.
To give a personal example, it has long been a goal of mine to write a series of fantasy adventure novels. Fantasy is my favorite genre of fiction, as I grew up reading classics such as The Chronicles of Narnia and young-adult novels like Percy Jackson and the Olympians. When I first started writing, much of my initial research was focused on what elements and tropes people gravitate towards. While this was helpful information, it resulted in my writing looking like every other fantasy story rather than something of my own creation. Since then, I have become more confident in my ideas and have embraced my need to write the kind of book that I would want to read.
It can be intimidating to present your personal writing before others, not knowing how it will be received. However, finishing a work that you’ve poured your heart into is a great success in and of itself. Not everyone will love what you write and that’s okay. You shouldn’t be writing for attention but writing because you love it.
Just like with any form of art, great writing comes with dedication and passion. Writers often put a great deal of pressure on themselves to put out the best work possible to the point of causing anxiety. However, as Christians we have to remember that we can honor God through our writing. I do not believe that God judges our art based upon how inspirational it is but rather on how it can be used to honor Him. I’ve recently adopted the practice of praying before I write, as it helps me to be less anxious and to keep things in perspective. As believers, we have to remember that we should not be writing for our own fame or glory but for God’s. Whenever you are stressed about writing, you can remind yourself of this verse:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.Colossians 3:23-24
God bless, and happy writing!