Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Filling the Blank Page, Part 1

The first draft of this post
These days, when I sit down to write a first draft, whether a blog post, an article or a novel, I have some idea of what that first draft is supposed to look like. I know it won't look the same for every project (nor should it) and I know that sometimes, when the going gets tough on one project, I need to dive into another one instead.

But I've been writing professionally for more than 25 years. I should hope I know how to do this stuff.

Still, sometimes, the blank page is daunting. Maybe I can't think of a topic or maybe I, like my daughter and my students, struggle with perfectionism and/or procrastination. Instead of writing, I find a million other things to do, whether it's because I can't get started or I fear that the end product won't live up to my expectations.

Time and experience have taught me a few strategies for this.

  • I don't outline. I'm not saying this is a good thing -- just that outlines don't work for me and that trying to make them work uses up valuable time and energy.
  • I don't skip the first draft. Okay, sometimes I do, but only when the first draft goes extraordinarily well. I never plan to skip a first draft, which can look like anything from a random assortment of ideas to fully formatted paragraphs, most of which I probably came up with in the shower instead of in front of the computer. 
  • I don't worry about making a first draft pretty. When I teach writing, I tell my students to just dump everything onto the page. I've gone so far as to use the word "vomit" to describe this brain dump, explaining that after that visual, there's nowhere to go but up.  
  • I don't focus solely on one project at at time unless I have to. When a deadline looms, I have no choice but to dig in and get it done. But when the project in front of me isn't time sensitive, I don't feel guilty about replacing it with another one when the words just won't come. 
To dedicated plotters and laser-focused, production-oriented writers, these don'ts may reek of laziness but, for me, they keep the aforementioned procrastination and perfectionism at bay. I'll be the first to admit that I'm an emotion-focused writer but, when I use that to my advantage, I can pour that passion onto the page, and my work is better for it. When I force myself to adhere to things that don't work for me, I end up wasting a great deal of time that could be better spent writing.

So if these are the don'ts, what are the to-do's? Check back in a week or so to find out what I do instead. 

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