The Blank Page

Here we are again at monthly post time and, as per usual, I am looking at a blank page the day before my article is due. It’s not that I deliberately wait until the eleventh hour to start my piece; occasionally I do get the germ of an idea sometime during the preceding month, that develops unconsciously, and by the time I sit down to actually write the post it virtually writes itself; but not this time.

It’s not unusual for me to write an article without previously having any idea of what I’m going to write; inevitably inspiration strikes and I’m off and running. This time however I’ve drawn a complete blank, no inspiration, nothing, and that is unusual. Is this what’s meant by ‘writer’s block’?!?! So where to from here??? I’ve never been here before, new territory, and I must admit I am finding it more than a little disconcerting…

Well, that didn’t last long, thank the gods… or my muse… or my lucky stars… or what or whomever you might call upon that you attribute credit to when things turn out just the way they should… and blame when they don’t.

‘Writer’s Block’ was the title I wanted to use; however I didn’t put this title at the top of the page because I wanted to share with you the feeling of what I was experiencing, or at least the beginning of what I thought it was. In the first two paragraphs I was merely attempting to rationalise the feeling and write myself out of it. Finishing the second paragraph with, “I am finding it more than a little disconcerting…” I continued to stare at the page for several, long minutes before an idea hit me: WRITER’S BLOCK!!! That’s it! That’s the post!!!

Writer’s block: a condition primarily associated with the writing profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce work. The condition can vary widely of course but, luckily and happily, it is mostly a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand. Webster’s describes it thus: ‘Writer’s Block is usually a temporary psychological inability to begin or continue work on a piece of writing.’

The causes of writer’s block seem to be elusive; however anxiety would appear to be a major factor. The angst may or may not have anything to do with the writing itself, but it most assuredly can become self-perpetuating. Some quite famous authors have apparently suffered from this malady for extended periods. F. Scott Fitzgerald was reportedly one, and renowned British, thriller writer Clare Francis has apparently been suffering with same for some years.

On further research I find there are a wide variety of symptoms of WB, and although I began by saying that I hadn’t encountered it prior to the beginning of this post, what I meant was that I hadn’t encountered that particular symptom: staring at a blank page. Once I began researching it I discovered that WB apparently takes many forms, and in fact I was not aware of many of its symptoms. The following are just ten of these many symptoms but enough that you might get the picture. Although I don’t generally suffer from most of them, there are one or two that I am familiar with from time to time. How about you?

1. You stare at an empty page for an inordinate amount of time.

2. You often change your mind about the direction of your story.

3. You suffer an inability to stay focussed.

4. You spend a disproportionate amount of time on research.

5. You become bored with one or more of your characters.

6. You lose interest in a story you are writing.

7. You spend more time reading another’s book than writing your own.

8. You can’t think of a solid story idea.

9. You have a lot of ideas but can’t commit to any one of them.

10. You have an outline but there are gaps where you cannot connect the dots.

Prior to researching this article I would not have attributed most of the above symptoms to what I thought was writer’s block; apparently we writers are a superstitious lot who prefer not to look at or discuss such taboo subjects in case we inadvertently summon them forth.


Author: T.D. McKinnon

Scottish author T.D.McKinnon ‘Survived the Battleground of Childhood’ in the coal mining communities of Scotland and England before joining the British Parachute Regiment at fifteen where he remained for five years. He has trained in the martial arts for most of his life and had five Karate schools in Scotland before immigrating to Australia. He writes across several genres and has completed five books that are all available as eBooks. He lives in Tasmania, Australia with his wife. Learn more about T.D.McKinnon at his website and Amazon author page.

20 thoughts on “The Blank Page”

  1. Thanks for the great post, T.D.! I have had every one of these symptoms this past month and never quite tied them to WB. I hope to recover from this ailment very soon. 🙂

    1. I hear you S.A. and I have at various times experienced everything but the ‘blank page’ brain freeze, until now that is. All the other symptoms can be passed off as procrastination or the like and, like most writers it would appear, I did; however the blank page brain freeze is scary. I tend to adopt the old adage: ‘do or say what you fear most,’ so, I see a blank page and I immediately start writing on it, sometimes it’s pure drivel but it solves the blank screen and seems to kick-start ye old brain into gear.

      Thank you so much, S.A., for dropping by and commenting.

  2. I would never have tied most of those symptoms to writer’s block, either, TD. I generally put them under the heading of procrastination, lol.

    I agree with you that writer’s block — the real thing — stems from anxiety. The thing that works for me is giving myself a deadline. But that won’t work for people who get anxious about deadlines. 😉 I think the real solution is to have faith in yourself. And then do exactly what you did: start putting words on the page. 🙂

    1. Me too, Lynne. Procrastination, stalling, delaying and many more descriptive terms, relating to writing (or rather the lack there of), are just excuses for not delivering the goods, and a writer who doesn’t deliver the writing is said to have writer’s block.

      As for my thoughts on what I originally considered WB to be; after whatever procrastination I’d been indulging in, I’d just jump in and start writing and so didn’t give the WB (or what I thought to be WB) a chance to get hold. As I said in the post, I usually have things occurring in my subconscious, just behind whatever conscious activity I’m involved in, and so when I sit down to actually write there is something there to spill onto the page; and you’re right, the deadline thing usually forces the end of my procrastination too.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting, Lynne.

  3. Yes, anxiety is the big stumbler for me. I often don’t even open the page unless I have at least a kernel of an idea. Intertia and procrastination are how it manifests for me.

      1. Inertia or apathy is something other people might call our apparent inactivity when it occurs, AC, but I don’t think of myself as lazy, and I’m sure you would not be.

    1. I know just what you mean, Yvonne, that’s why I open the page and dig right in. As writers, we love writing, let’s face it it’s part of what defines us; anxiety I believe is a fear of not being able to do something well or properly or, in the case of we writers, not living up to our own expectations of ourselves. I am one of the world’s worst (or is that best) procrastinators, always have plausible reasons for putting things off; I convince myself and everyone else. Fortunately, I’m also determined (some might say pigheaded) and never give up.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting, Yvonne.

  4. For me facing the blank page is exactly as it was when I was facing the blank canvas before doing a new painting. The minute I made the first stroke I was on my way. So I always made a first stroke, never knowing where it was going to take me. Pretty soon I was able to put many more colors on the canvas, and it’s exactly the same thing with writing. One word leads to another, and another, and pretty soon you have a page full and can just start your editing later. I never try to censor what I’m writing. Sometimes I start off with “What am I doing on this page, writing a whole lot of rubbish!” So, no writer’s block for me, because sometimes the word-processing mistakes take over and give me some interesting new thoughts! I just write any words—they have a creative life of their own.

    1. Excellent, Ester, and just the way it’s supposed to work, I think; it’s certainly the way it works for me. However, what about some of the other points in regard to what might be described as procrastination, or meandering, or losing the way in a plot, or losing interest in a character et cetera? Even just in the short term? If you never experience any of that then I do envy you.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting, Ester.

      1. I think a lot of us just do “busy work” to delay writing. Once writing, we may even delay the necessary “busy work.” Sometimes during that process new ideas come into our heads and get us creating again. I once picked up a book on sale at B and N, aptly titled “I’d rather be writing.” It got me thinking differently about WB and procrastination. Now it seems there are too many delays due to the demands of keeping up with social media and similar. Thanks for your great posts.

  5. I’ve always thought that WB was a misnomer–I believe it’s your subconscious telling you you’ve made a wrong turn somewhere in your manuscript. Once you find out where and what, then it’s off to the races again. Great post, TD 🙂

    1. Yes, I get that, DV, in regard to somewhere into the story, but what about at the beginning… do you ever get that? Or you plan to write something and you’re really looking forward to getting into it but… something keeps getting in the way of you starting… all very legitimate stuff, but it makes you feel guilty because you promised yourself it would be well on its way before now, and with the guilt comes anxiety, and… No… Maybe that’s just one of my foibles.

      Thank you so very much for dropping by and commenting, DV.

  6. Great post TD, you know, its weird. I’ve never experienced it. In fact, my wife describes my condition as writers diarrhea. Perhaps it’s because in my mind, I’m fairly new to writing, having published my first novel in 2011. For me, the issue is time. Thanks for the insight, now I have to get your list out of my head.

    1. Funnily enough, Jim, you do strike me as someone who would not have a problem with anxiety, in regard to beginning a piece of writing, and upbeat enough to maintain enthusiasm with story and characters, avoiding boredom and ennui; that gets you a fair way through the list to begin with.

      Thank you so much for dropping by and commenting, Jim.

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