There it is again, that blank page. It used to be just lines on a page and a hand spasmodically clicking a pen. Now itís that dreaded curser blinking, unrelenting, perfectly rhythmical. Here: I can play a little drum solo against that beat. Okay, now Iíll change the shape of the curser, maybe Iíll change the font. Nah, I need some words on the page to change the font. I wish that neighbor would get his muffler fixed. Is that a hangnail? Maybe Iíve got some interesting email. Must. Not. Surf. Internet. What to write, what to write, what to write.
Does any of that sound familiar? If you have an assignment, getting past the block is not as hard as you might think. If you are writing for pleasure or for shameless self-promotion (oh, woe blog I), the difficulty is hard to overcome because your silent soul is as naked as the blank page. But if youíre writing non-fiction and youíre stuck, try some of these ideas.
Borrowed Energy: Read something someone else has written on the same subject or a similar one. Then put that work somewhere you canít see it, and start writing your piece.
Call Me: Call a friend and tell them about the subject at hand. Do not talk about anything else. When youíve finished, hang up and write what youíve just said. If itís the wee hours of the morning and you canít call, talk into a tape recorder as if you were talking to someone you know.
Darts: Close your eyes and plop your finger onto your outline. Write about the topic under your finger no matter where it appears in the outline.
Degree of Difficulty: Grade each item in your outline for how hard you think it will be to write. (The introduction and the conclusion donít count, as you canít write either of those until at least some of your piece is finished.) Then pick a subject that you have decreed easy and write about it. Increase by degrees of difficulty until you are past your block and can just write, or until the piece is finished and ready for your first round of edits.
Index Cards: Write each topic from your outline on a separate index card. Take the deck of topics and toss it in the air. Pick up any card that lands topic-side up, and write about it. This is one of my favorite techniques. Sometimes, just thinking about doing this pleases me enough that I can begin writing.
Metatalk: Instead of writing the piece, write about the pieceóan abstract. Then write out who the audience is, naming a few real people and talking about their uses for the information you will impart. Then write a description of the voice you think is appropriate. Name a writer youíd like to emulate. Once youíve described all the external components, it should be easier to write the piece itself. (A lot of blockage is caused by a lack of clarity about where the piece is headed.)
Outline, Outline, Outline: Donít try to be coherent or linear, just get the thoughts you have about your subject into an outline. Then you can play with the details and the order of things until it makes the most sense. Once youíve got an intelligent outline, the task wonít seem as daunting. (I really wanted to put this suggestion firstóit involves the least extraneous workóbut this list is alphabetical, so here it is near the end. Oh well.)
Stream of Consciousness: Try to stay on topic, but donít worry too much about it. Just get the words coming, knowing that you can go back and reorganize and prune once the juices get flowing. This method does not work for me when writing non-fiction, but works like a charm for fiction.
Take a Shower: I donít know how many people have told me that they get their best ideas in the shower. Perhaps thereís something about all that steam that gets us thinking outside the box. Iíve also tried washing the car, with less resounding, yet similar effect. Maybe itís a soap and water thing. At any rate, youíve got to think about your topic while youíre washing. Donít wander.
Write the Middle: The beginning and ending are crucial, and the stress of getting them perfect may be preventing you from getting started. Wait until youíve written the middle before you turn your attention to the extremities.
If you have other ideas, Iíd love to hear about them. As I did a little research on this topic in my collection of books about writing, I was astonished by how few books address this issue. Only the Stream of Consciousness idea is not my own.