Good morning, friends and neighbors!
In the last few months, I’ve developed a new tradition. After my therapy appointments, I wander down the street to my old cafe. There, my friend Madeline is usually on the espresso machine. She makes me my favorite coffee drink (a cafe con miel, essentially a latte with honey and cinnamon syrup,) then I sit down to write… something.
Usually it’s the start of that weeks blog entry, as now, or continuing work on the next book. Recently I’ve also started posting more casual, narrative foodwriting through Medium.
Regardless, it’s a block of time each week that I have set aside to be creative. Routine and Practice are vital if you want to make anything worth making.
“What I’m gonna write about today” though… that’s always a bit dodgy. As you can see, sometimes I just start with “whatever is right in front of me.”
“Many painters are afraid of the blank canvas, but the blank canvas is afraid of the painter who dares, and who has broken the spell of ‘you can’t’ once and for all.”– Vincent Van Gogh
There’s no shortage of techniques, products, drugs, and sundry madness available to spur creativity:
- Writing prompts/ challenges- “Write a monologue from a character that thinks as well as a man, but not LIKE a man, and don’t use the letter G.”
- Oblique Strategy cards
- Guided meditations
- Certain strains of marijuana (the couch suggested that one)
I have used just about all of them in one form or another, and what works entirely depends on you and your goals. All of it has been in service to slaying that most terrible monster of all- the blank page.
The blank page is “analysis paralysis” made manifest. It is the tyranny of choice. It is the one excuse for not creating that no one can really name- because it seems like the opposite of the problem. Even if you have all the time and space in the world, it can result in nothing.
You can do anything… but you do nothing, waiting for yourself to do SOMETHING. And not just something… but something good. Something perfect.
So nothing happens. How do you break the stalemate between you, a masterful artist and voice of your generation- and a piece of loose leaf? Try some of these ideas, and remember to set yourself up for success first!
1. Vomiting the World
“Wordvomiting” or “freewriting” is a common technique to break mental blocks and spur creativity. The idea is simple- you, a page, a timer, and no censors. Dump words on to the page for a set amount of time- no sentence structure, no punctuation, no erasing. Back when I was in college, you could always tell which kids were trying to be “edgy” and “profound” because their freewrites would be rich with profanities. Truly, nothing displays your creative spirit more than writing the word “fuck” about 100 times in 5 minutes.
For a slightly more directed form of freewriting (really, more of a writing prompt), you can try doing what I do:
“Do something mundane for one hour- then sit down and document it all from memory.”
I fancy myself a food writer, and writing about food- as you can expect- involves using all your senses. Being present and open to everything so you can document it in detail- from the smell of fresh-baked bread to the sound of sizzling bacon.
Think of this as “clearing the buffer” for your senses and taking them out of the background, holding pattern we usually keep them in. Go for a walk, clean your room, whatever, for one hour- and then try to document everything you smelled, heard, felt, and tasted as you did it.
2. What’s Going On?
Guilty as charged on this one. Whenever I want to write something but am a little stuck for how to get rolling, I will literally document whatever I am seeing, feeling, looking at right then. Even if it’s not immediately relevant to the subject at hand, I can at least put myself in an analytical, narrative headspace.
You literally never have “no ideas.” There is absolutely never “nothing on your mind.” You’ve got a brain. Brains think. It’s their job. The trick is being aware of what you are thinking about, and how. This is called “metacognition”- understanding how your mind works. It’s an incredibly useful characteristic to have, because once you know how to kick your brain into gear, you can do it much more easily.
Right now, for 20 seconds, stop what you are doing and ask yourself “Why am I thinking about what I’m thinking about?” No, clever answers like “because Matt told me to” don’t count.
3. Go Through The Motions
Supposedly, earlier in his career, Hunter S. Thompson sat down to his typewriter and copied out F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and Hemingways “A Farewell to Arms” over and over again.
Why? Because he “wanted to feel what it was like to write a masterpiece.”
Sit down and write one of your favorite works from memory. Ad lib if you can’t quite remember it. The idea of this isn’t to publish someone else’s work you love- it’s to get you physically working, so that you’ll switch on mentally. It’s not unlike the idea of improving your mood by smiling, or building confidence by posing in the mirror.
It’s pretty simple really. If you want to write something… sit down and write something.
That’s all I’ve got for today- one more blank page slain!
What about you? What scares you about the Blank Page? Tried any of these techniques before? Did they work? Share it in the comments!