What We Write About When We’ve Got Nothing to Write: aka ‘Pop, I’ve Got the White Page’

As a term, Writer’s Block has never worked for me.

I struggled this week to strike upon a topic for this blog until I realized with my typically slow-motion little-brain big-DUH way of cogitating that I’d had my topic in front of me the entire time.

Perhaps of only interest to me: I struggle more often with Writer’s Block when prepping the blog and rarely, if ever, with my fiction. Not sure why that is other than the simple reality that when I’m writing fiction I almost always have chunks of text (no matter how terrible) that I can revise, and revision almost always gets me drafting again.

With the blog, because it is topical, the struggle is more in finding the topic than in the writing itself.

And this is my problem with the term Writer’s Block, which no matter how you parse it, evokes constipation.

When I’m stumped for a direction or a topic, I feel…un-blank. My busy mind the exact opposite of the empty page before me. Given my interest in how creative activities cross over with exercises in mindfulness, I can’t help but wonder if what’s daunting about the blank page isn’t that it’s empty, but that I'm not empty, that I'm not quite yet in the moment with that blankness, that I've not yet allowed body and mind to give themselves over to this creative moment.

More than a few of us have noted that when we’re in the Writing Zone, we’re almost taking dictation from sources unknown and mysterious. Allowing that take-over isn’t easy, especially when the many niggling worries and concerns of the rest of our lives are interrupting in a constant knock-knock-knocking upon our skulls.

Or perhaps we’re egoistic enough to forget that writing isn’t about us, but about the writing itself. Nothing will kick your ego’s ass faster than serving the muse. The sooner you get OK with surrendering, the sooner you can get to writing. And surrender, as any artist or religious practitioner will tell you, is often the most difficult of tasks imaginable.

That’s a lot to ask of we mere mortals faced with the blank page. No wonder there are some days we just can’t get the words down. Some days we just don’t want to be present or to bow down or to surrender.

So rather than calling it Writer’s Block, maybe we just acknowledge that we’re feeling a bit too much Big I, too much me me me, to get right with our writing selves. Let’s call it Embracing the Blank Page.

For the less esoteric among you, I humbly submit some of my strategies for embracing the blank page.

Go revise an old piece of writing. Any old piece of writing.

Switch media. If you typically write by hand, spend a few minutes typing, or if you typically type, grab a pen and paper.

Read something.

Give yourself permission to write anything. Set a timer and just…go. The physical act of writing often kick-starts the mental act.

Switch art forms. Go play the drums. Get dancing. Go draw.

Switch writing forms. Writing poetry (no matter how awful it may very well be) does wonders.

Give it up for the day. This is the scary one. We all know that one missed day can often begat another. But skipping a writing day can often gain you distance and alter your perspective about your current project.

Those are a few exercises I use. What are your strategies for embracing the blank page?