Monday, August 11, 2014

The Writer's Greatest Fear: Methods to Conquer the Blank Page

By Robert Vincent

It’s a story all storytellers are familiar with. You, staring at the blank page, fingers fear-frozen over the keys, notebook empty, mind jumbled with words and characters and plots you can’t quite combine into decipherable language. It’s just a blank page. But it feels like a mountain.

The blank page feels like a volcanic peak, its slopes teeming with horrors too many to name. There are adverb beasts, flesh-hungry IRS agents, and velociraptors that can open doors.

And worse.

On Blank Page Mountain, you encounter yourself and the very worst fears within. The fear of not being any good, of rejection by peers and agents and editors. Of finding that the book of your heart is too wonderful, too massive, too perfect to be translated into mere words. You fear failure.

But these fears are conquerable. Like the proverbial magic sword the weird old dude in the cave gives you, there exist tools designed to help.

Allow me to be your cave hermit. It’s dangerous to go alone. Take these tools to assist you on your climb.

Tool One: The Internet

The Internet can just as easily be a curse as a boon to writers. I’ve seen people go from writer to cat-video addict in five minutes flat. It’s not a pretty sight. If you want to be productive, never click on anything cat-related. Ever. Except for the following website, of course. This site rewards you with a cute kitten picture every time you complete X number of words. If that doesn’t motivate you to get onto those slopes and go word-prospecting, then I don’t know what will. Offers you profile achievements and badges for completing X number of days in a row where you write 750 words or more. Great for those struggling to achieve good writing habits. This site forces you to keep typing. If you stop, the site will punish you in various ways ranging from blaring annoying sounds, showing you pictures of creepy spiders, or disemvoweling your already-typed words. Ick.

Tool Two: The Pomodoro Technique

Place a timer next your computer or notebook. Set it for 25 minutes (an interval of time known as a Pomodoro). Start it.

Then write your brains out.

There are arguably two concepts behind the efficacy of the Pomodoro Technique:

A: You can do anything for 25 minutes. Come on—it’s less than half an hour. You can type for half an hour, right? You’re a writer, dagnabbit, and if you can’t find the time or heart to write for 25 measly minutes, then maybe you should find something easier to do, like mastodon-wrangling.

B: A five-minute break between Pomodoros can do wonders for a word-weary mind. Take the five minutes after the Pomodoro dings to stand up, stretch, maybe feed your miniature giant space hamster. Whatever. Then set another timer and get back to climbing that mountain.

Do what works best for you. Experiment like the story scientist you are. Force yourself to write for that first time interval, and you’ll likely find yourself on a roll by the end of it.

Tool Three: Psychology

Changing the way you think about the writing process might help you surmount that first page and beyond. Some options:

Think about writing as a necessary task. Steven Pressfield, in his book The War of Art, has this to say about writers and other endeavoring artists: “The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”

Like doing laundry, eating that broccoli, or re-oiling your aggressive mecha-otter, writing is a task that you simply must do.

Stop caring so much. During the 2014 Pikes Peak Writers Conference, this was the central subject of Chuck Wendig’s keynote speech. He said (and I’m paraphrasing) that as writers, we’re not curing cancer. We’re not leading nations. We are allowed to screw up without great consequences. Words can always be rewritten. More queries can always be sent. Stop caring so much, frozen by the fear of failure, and write some darn words.

Write here. Write now. Make it happen.

Tool Four: Community

You don’t have to climb the velociraptor-infested slopes of Blank Page Mountain alone. Critique groups can be a huge boon not only to the quality of a writer’s work, but to the quantity. Fellow writers can push you forward in your writing career, providing encouragement and constructive criticism. Try different in-person critique groups until you find the one that fits you. If you’d rather try it online, I’d recommend first.

Writing conferences are like the delicious chocolate nucleus in the tootsie pop of writerly fellowship. If you’ve never been to a writing conference, I highly recommend investing the time and money and licking that tootsie pop. Writing conferences are hubs of learning and professional networking, it’s true. But they’re also places where you can find life-long friends, fellow human beings struggling in the same art you are. Don’t underestimate the value of that.

The Pikes Peak Writing Conference was my personal turning point from dreamer to writer, and it was primarily because of the amazing fellow writers I met. Might it also be your turning point?

The Writer’s Greatest Fear

You’ve done it. You’ve reached the summit of Blank Page Mountain, and the page before you is swathed in your inky progeny. The adverb beasts are tamed. The IRS vampires are evaded. The clever velociraptors are stumped.

More peaks tower before you. More fears. But if you’ve written, you can rest assured that you’ve conquered, for now, the very greatest fear a writer can face. The going will still be difficult, but your feet are tougher and more sure. The mountains seem smaller.

What is the writer’s greatest fear? Not failure. Not rejection. Not despair.

It’s the utter horror of never trying.

If you’ve bested this fear, congratulations. Now get back to work. Show the world what you’ve got.

About the Author:  Writer. Game designer. Cubicle monkey. Robert Vincent's hardly started on his writing career, but has already won honorable mention in The Writers of the Future Contest and has won the PPW Zebulon Contest. He attributes his lack of publication credits to poor bio-writing skills. Robert's currently working on his epic fantasy novel, living in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with his beloved Companion Cube. Find him at


  1. Robert wins the Internet for today for his reference to miniature giant space hamsters.

    Well done! Well written!


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