Facing the Blank Page II

While limiting their writing time to 15 minutes helps many writers face the blank page, it doesn’t work for others. Even if they give themselves permission to write for only five minutes, some writers cannot sit down and begin. Something else—a phone call, a chore, an errand– always calls them away, and by the time they think about writing again, the day is just about over–and they are tired.

I often suggest that those writers try sitting down and “unloading” as a way to begin writing. They can set a timer for five minutes, and for that five minutes can write about whatever they are thinking and feeling: an argument they had with their partner, a lousy dinner they ate at a local a restaurant the night before, or just how much they’d rather do anything but write.

After five minutes of free writing about gripes, disappointments, and anxieties, I suggest that the writer segue into their writing project. This moment may look something like the following: I don’t know if I’ll ever recover from my embarrassment. Yesterday while walking my dog around the block, I happened to notice a dried leaf curled gracefully on the ground. I stopped to admire the leaf, its tip curled inward in a balletic pose.. . .

Unloading accomplishes two things: unloading negative thoughts and feelings can make it much easier for the writer sit down and engage with the page, and if the writer unloads about how she’d rather not write, she might eventually be able to uncover what fuels her avoidance.

One writer I worked with was surprised when she reread a week of unloading, and saw that she had written about how much her father’s criticism of her writing had hurt her when she was young. When we talked, she realized that this hurt was one of the reasons she was having trouble sitting down to write. Once we discussed strategies for diffusing this old wound, she found it much less difficult to begin her writing each morning.

Baby Cocunut


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