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How to get over fear of the blank page

What you need to know if you're starting to write

Fear of the blank page

What is fear of the blank page anyway? Is it that the blinking cursor and the open document on your computer or page of your notebook just feels downright intimidating? Or is the true problem the critical voice – which everyone has by the way – that tells you that you shouldn’t bother? Or could it come down to difficulty getting started? Perhaps you’re telling yourself that you need to come up with an idea first (you don’t)? Or are you a perfectionist? Do you want to get it right first time? All of these afflictions can cause what is known as ‘fear of the blank page’.

Here’s the good news

There is a way to think differently about all of the above challenges. Ask yourself what you would like to think instead. What are you thinking now about your writing and what would you like to think? Even if it makes you uncomfortable, decide on the opposite of your current thought about the conundrum.

  • The blank page is intimidating becomes the blank page is my friend.
  • Your critical voice (be specific about whatever it says repeatedly to you) becomes a friendly encouraging voice.
  • I can’t get started becomes I can’t wait to get started.
  • I need to come up with an idea before I start becomes I’ll get started and come up with an idea later.
  • I want to get it right becomes I want to make plenty of mistakes.

Practical exercises

Once you’ve started to think differently about it, what can you do practically to get over your fear of the blank page? Here are three techniques you can use to help. I explain more about them in the video.

  1. The lists technique (the way I teach it, the list technique is a kind of mindfulness in disguise)
  2. Freewriting (with a timer)
  3. Deliberate experience (an adaptation of what Julia Cameron calls ‘filling the well’)

Even if you don’t suffer from fear of the blank page, all of these techniques can help you get started and can create material that you can mine later for ideas, proving that you don’t have to have an idea to get started.

By the way, if you tend towards perfectionism and that’s putting you off getting started, remember that the ‘real’ writing comes in the redrafting and you can do as many drafts as you like. In other words, you ‘get it right’ over several drafts and the first go can be an exploration.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,


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