Don’t Fear the Blank Page

Sometimes the words won’t come. Or your pencil hovers over the page, unsure what to draw. These are all symptoms of art block.

Newspaper writer, Red Smith, was once asked if churning out a daily column was a chore. His response: “Why, no. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”

Nothing is more daunting than putting down that first word or initial pencil stroke. The fear of not-getting-it-right can be paralyzing. It’s a hurtle every artist encounters at some point. 

The easiest way to surmount this hurtle is to avoid the expected path. As Robert Frost wrote in The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

The trouble is we trap ourselves. We think that writers only write or artists only draw. When in reality, art is a fluid medium. Words, images, performance all meld together in the crock pot of creativity. 

Try Something Unexpected

You need to get the project rolling any way you can. If you’re a writer, you might try sketching or storyboarding. Even jotting down the favorite bits rattling around your brain can serve as a start. Or you can try my favorite, scribbling ideas on sticky notes (allowing you to rearrange as needed). Because who can’t write a little something on a sticky note? It’s what they’re for.

You might shift into performance to get the creative juices flowing. Sing or even act out your ideas. (So long as no one’s watching, of course.) In the play Deathtrap, by Ira Levin, the lead characters are both playwrights who act out each grizzly murder to make sure they make sense. 

Stop the Clock

No one says it has to gush out of you like a raging torrent. There exists a common trope of the artist who sits at the typewriter or approaches the canvas and simply flips a switch, creating with such vigor they look nearly mad with the effort. This simply doesn’t happen (or at least it doesn’t happen that often). 

Typically, creation happens in drips and dribbles. Slowly over a long period of time. It’s the consistency that’s important. All the more reason to get past the fear of that stark white page. 

Tap Your Friends

No one said you had to go it alone. Bounce ideas off others. Instead of bringing a “finished” work to a critique group, perhaps you come with an idea and seek some advice. It’s far easier to write or draw something when you know it won’t be the finished product. 

Because a page with something on it is no longer blank. It ceases to be the empty terror it once posed. Inertia is a powerful thing. The same force that keeps a rock rolling down hill will also cement it in place, refusing to budge. 

Do whatever you have to do to shove that boulder. Get some words or images on the page. Then, you won’t have to fear the blank page any longer. 

Tim Kane

Monthly Mental Kitchen

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