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Filling in the Blanks: Brainstorming With Yourself

By Barbara Spear

Blank Note Pad Shutterstock Wide

Nearly every writer I know has the same challenge: how to get started. It’s funny--whenever I’m faced with a first draft to write--how many ordinarily low-priority tasks suddenly need immediate attention. I’ve been known to polish the sink or clean my keyboard with a tiny brush instead of beginning to write. Especially in the face of a looming deadline.

So, how can you move past the virtual or real blank page and move forward with a project?

First: turn off your internal editor. Just write. Don’t interrupt your flow, especially as you’re just getting underway, by judging your results. Wait until you’ve completed a draft before you start editing.

Here are a few pragmatic techniques that may help you get your brain in creative gear.

Embrace the blankness. Grab a big piece of paper or a whiteboard. Start writing down everything that occurs to you, whether it’s related to the topic or not. Don’t worry about the order of what you write or where you put it on the page, even whether it’s upside down or written along the edge of the paper or board. Keep filling in the spaces until you’ve filled up the space and/or written down everything you can. At that point, read through your writing and use a different color pen to identify the most important points and their relationship with each other.

​Don’t worry about the order of what you write or where you put it on the page, even whether it’s upside down or written along the edge of the paper or board.

Seize the blank page (online version). Open a new document. Just start writing, whether it has anything to do with the topic or not. Copy and paste everything you have on the subject, wherever it may come from and in whatever order. To avoid copying other writers’ work, use a different color type for any content that you cannot use as written. When you’ve finished, read through the document and reorder it to tell the story. Use that version to create a working outline.  

And, if you’re still stuck, exercise your mind. Give yourself a short break for active, purposeful procrastination when you can focus on thinking about anything but the project. Get away from your workspace and do something different to change your mental channel. Take your dog, or just yourself for a walk. Make yourself a cup of coffee or tea. Solve a puzzle. When the break is up, zero in on your assignment.

One more technique: shift the subject. Work on something else and give that your full attention for at least ½ hour. Then, try again with the empty space technique above.

Most importantly: give yourself permission to rewrite. Don’t try to make your first draft perfect, but instead count on your revisions and additions to your first version. Be respectful to your goal: edit your work thoughtfully and don’t be afraid to throw out your first paragraph and begin with your second.

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