The Creative Process: Conquering the Blank Page

creative process


Everybody writes. It could be for personal or professional reasons. It could be a magnum opus or it could just be a social media post (sometimes just as challenging). Whatever it may be, when you start to write, do you feel happy or do you go into fight (the feeling) or flight (from the task)? Perhaps you are just waiting for inspiration to hit.

What if I told you that there is no such thing as a lightning bolt of creativity, or, conversely, there is no such thing as writer’s block? Would that make you happy, or would it make you uncomfortable to realize there is no magic to writing? However, there is a creative process!

Author Anne Patchett writes, “Why is it we understand that playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration?” The answer is in that old joke — How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice! ba-dum-dum-tsh! But seriously folks, it’s true and it applies to writing too. Like music, writing is a craft. Both take gobs and gobs of practice.

So, you ask, “If there’s no such thing as writer’s block, why do I struggle to begin every time I sit down to write?” It could be that you just aren’t trusting the process. Just like learning to play the cello or to draw (see illustration) you can break it down into steps that work for you.

First. Give yourself a hand for wanting to write! Not everyone has that urge to put pen to paper and it’s a special one. Second, give yourself a break. That story or proposal or newsletter won’t be perfect overnight. Even my social media posts take me at least one rewrite. Know that writing is not instant gratification. Rarely will you say what you want perfectly the first time around. So make a gift to yourself of the Ugly First Draft.

Second. If you simply can’t start, one way to create your Ugly  First Draft is to jot down what you want to say in list form … no need to connect the dots yet.

Third. Sit, just sit. Sit in front of your desk, computer, journal. A friend and I who worked together at a publishing firm used to call this “assuming the position.” Procrastination took many forms (sooo many coffee breaks) but at the end of the day, we would sit, assuming the position and tapping out Ugly First Drafts until blue in the face, then editing, editing, editing.

The Ugly First Draft is merely a chance to get your ideas on paper. Then the real craft begins. All good writing is editing and that is the tool that will give you a clear, well-organized and intelligent piece.

I can’t remember which great writer (I’m thinking Twain but I can’t confirm it) said this, but it is truer than true. “I can give you 1,000 words in an hour. If you want 100 words it will take me a day.” Those first thousand words are a fire hose of thought slamming into a brick wall. The 100 words are the perfectly beautiful babbling brook we all want to visit again and again.

This is a big one! Start with the end in mind, reward yourself along the way (for instance, Ugly First Draft done? Take a coffee break), and stay committed to the process. And then, after a few rewrites and perhaps one time reading it aloud, release your final piece into the world. It might not be perfect but you have done more than most people — you’ve started, continued and completed something that was important to you. It’s scary, no denying it, but you did it!

For more about writing: How to Write Better Copy


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