Starting from nothing is very much about the greatest challenge in writing, and as such it is for writers who are trying to achieve something. My contention that a blank page is rare. Reality is you are never, starting from nothing. There is always something to work on, something to continue, something for tomorrow.
Never — Starting from Nothing
On a personal note, I always have ideas. Not all of them sane, nor repeatable, but they consistently occur. They are concepts that pop into the mind from time to time. You need to listen to your mind! Sift through the crazy and find the snippets you can work with. No writer should be on the start line with blank page, ideas should be in motion.
The best of my ideas are the ones that I take note of and after thought turn them into the core of something that is publishable. Like you, I have seen many comments about how difficult it is to start writing with the empty page; having nothing to guide you or push you. I woke this morning not knowing what to write about, yet I found inspiration. Simply imagine staring out and finding nothing on which to comment on. Where is the fun in that? In truth we should rarely start from nothing. In Evernote I have more than 120 notes, or ideas, that I have started and not yet completed.
Most of these notes are the bare bones of an idea needing research. Some never amount to anything, some are nearing completion and others are simply awaiting time for polishing and finishing. I added one yesterday simply asked the question, “do you need to modernise the look of your site?” I will probably add random thoughts about his subject for weeks before turning it into something that is publishable.
Recently I started writing a novel, where the words for the opening chapters came from a post published on another site. The topic of discussion was turned into a conversation between several people. It stayed true to the original except that statements may have changed their form. Perhaps, turned into questions, which may trigger other thoughts to the participants in the story. Ultimately the discussion added elements that were not in the original. The challenge is finishing the remainder of the story. Although that remains on track with new storyline being added daily.
Reading and Thinking
Incessant reading helps, it gives the brain hooks to either use or oppose. But no book is to hand, I find myself typing this on the phone, after I forgot to pick up some light reading for this trip. Later, I am writing at some strange hour of the morning because I woke in a strange bed in another city. Isn’t it amazing how you can feel lost at such times; lost and possibly bored? But writing can fill that gap. Inspiration can occur anywhere and at any time. Perhaps it is half-way through watching the Yankees losing, once again to the Astros, the tone for this season. Thank goodness for the ability to pause live television, write the note, then continue watching the game.
You might think the prior paragraph was not written in a single sitting. You would be correct in thinking that. I changed it three times, recording three different moods. The point is having an electronic notebook you can take an idea, change it whenever it suits and grow what you are working on. Every time you read your own material it will spark new thoughts, perhaps triggering the need to add in something new.
At the same time we all know tomorrow will bring a different set of circumstances with our thoughts. Thinking is so important. We have different thoughts. Something else to think about.
I am working at home tomorrow, following my normal routine. This can make all the difference, as I can open my files to find the press and magazine clippings to refer to. There are many projects needing finishing, so little time for reading or writing over the next few days. Then I also know that I will pick this note up in the future and massage it, change it, beat it into shape and eventually publish it.
What do writers do when facing that blank page with nothing on it and no ideas? That is a critical question. Look on the internet and it seems that writer’s block is reaching pandemic proportions. Everyone is writing about it, so the challenge is NOT to write about it. Draw inspiration from the social networks; Google Plus, Facebook, and LinkedIn; not everything out there is boring! Or has inspiration has gone from this world for today? I think not.
Someone has published something, somewhere, that you will need to read. Take time to read it.
On the day that I picked up this note, which has now been resting for more than a few weeks. It seemed appropriate to breathe new life into it. Take a different approach. Take the words, turn them inside out, and prove that there is no such thing as lack of inspiration. I think that our minds are so active that we start something new without finishing the old. Definitely a bad habit. But we can address that problem in precisely those times when you are lacking inspiration, take a new start.
In part looking at the things around you, or that affect you should lead to many ideas. Maybe walking along the golden sands on the beach leads to a love story. Maybe it leads to you thinking about global warming, or perhaps driving your dirt-bike and churning up the sand. It is all about taking that inspirational moment in your mind and doing something with it.
At the very minimum writing down a note, for future use, recording how you felt at that moment. One writer suggested we do just this when experiencing a cold or the flu. How groggy and horrible we felt is something we forget when our senses return to full capacity. Those horrid feelings may have value, perhaps you have a character in your novel that is suffering terminal cancer. You may never publish these things, but by collecting those feelings and descriptions, you are building a library of clips you can use in the future. I record all manner of snippets for precisely that reason, I re-read the idea, how I felt at the time and that future me decides to take further action, or not.
Ask a Question
Perhaps that is the time to ask the question, “okay Google what, or why is…”? See what the answer is.
What do others think about this subject? Is there someone who supports your view? It is not a disaster if they don’t. Does someone take the opposite view? That can be helpful — it gives you something to argue against. The good thing about research is that you find out about things you have either forgotten about or never knew existed. Whether you are writing fact or fiction that journey matters, it is the heart of any writing project.
The more you know, the more it helps your writing. What is the best restaurant in Philadelphia? This could be important to know if you are writing a novel about someone visiting the city for a few days and will be invited to lunch by a powerful business figure. You will find people’s opinions through research. It will be possible to tell quickly that you are most likely to find it in the Rittenhouse, Midtown Village or Queen Village areas of the city. Then there is a comment on Facebook “Vedge is the best restaurant in town, perhaps ranking among the top restaurants — not vegan restaurants, not vegetarian restaurants, just restaurants — in the nation”. All that from a little research about a city I have not yet visited, I am hungry.
Far from Perfect?
There are times when what you write in your notes is far from perfect. The right words or phrases will not come to mind. That is alright because as long as you have the nub of it recorded it is always possible to come back later, then improve, or perfect it. Do not underestimate the power of editing or your mind’s ability to take the story further then next time around.
Not knowing how to phrase something is very much an excuse. Just get on, write it, put something down. When I do this I often include the following comment «NEEDS editing and the right words found» on a new live in my note. I will search for “«” in notes that I am working on because they give me instructions about changes I should consider. Far from perfect is better than nothing at all. “Far from perfect” gives you something to work on. Never publish it that way though.
Another thing to consider… Perhaps it is time to develop a critical mindset. You unconscious mind, the creative part of you is always churning, always going through things. It is awake while you sleep.
In your research you should have discovered the thoughts of others about this subject. It is possible you could discover there is no need for your piece. This happens when you apply critical thinking, but as a writer be prepared to park it move on to something else. More often though research leads to an affirmation that what you are writing is necessary. This is the point when you need to polish it up, make sure it adds value, then publish it.
Reading other people’s works with a critical mindset is a great way of spurring new ideas. If I am reading something and I encounter a statement I disagree with, this can be material to used launch a new discussion on the subject. It is however true that you have to pick your battles. Not everything you disagree with produces material for writing.
No Blank Pages
Are you starting from nothing? You shouldn’t be. It seems to me, that your page cannot be blank for too long, because your never starting from nothing. That the lack of inspiration in and of itself could be considered inspiration, if it is possible to follow that contorted logic. It is clear that it is a slow news day in the real-world sense, it is not possible to know whether it is in the news sense, given there is no newspaper to hand. I find that there is always a note or idea that it is possible to move one step closer to being finished.
Having all your eggs in one basket is not a good idea. Cast a few ideas out there in your journal and see what takes hold, contribute to each when appropriate. Watch your ideas grow and ensure you are NEVER starting from nothing. If someone asks you to write about a specific topic, look back in your notes to see what notes you already have, they provide the starting point. They may not be much, but they are something.
Other Writing on this Topic
Other pieces previously published on this topic include:
Buy Peter B. Giblett a coffee to thank him for talking about what to do when facing a blank page and failing to come up with ideas. If you have questions then please ask them via a comment. All images used here are available in the public domain and have been resourced from royalty free sites like Pixabay, Pexels, and Unsplash.