A dog struggling with blank page syndrome

Getting started on a writing task can be r-r-r-ruff!

Q. I’ve been tasked with writing a report on what our organization achieved over the past year. I’ve been given a list of bullet points, but I don’t know how to begin.

A. Staring at a blank computer screen is the scariest thing for people who are new to a communications role. If your first reaction is panic, you are not alone.

Even professional writers sometimes find themselves stymied at how to get started. They channel that old Bob Dylan line from “Brownsville Girl,” look for their muse, throw up their hands and lament

“If there’s an original thought out there, I could use it right now.”

That inertia is so common, it has a name: “blank page syndrome.” So how do you get past it?

The first step, contrary to instinct, is don’t panic. And the second step, with a nod to Nike, is just do it. The best way to start writing is to simply start writing. Think of your report as an email, a text message or a phone call. A savvy editor once told a young reporter to “Imagine you have just come back from an event and a friend calls to ask what happened. Your answer will either be the most important thing or the most interesting thing.”

If you’ve read the bullet points or resource materials, your brain has already subconsciously noted what is important or interesting. It’s time to get your subconscious thoughts out of your head and onto the page. “Start by getting something – anything – down on paper,” novelist Anne Lamott advises in Sh*tty First Drafts. “The first draft is the down draft – you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft – you fix it up.”

Let your first draft be your “child’s draft,” Lamott says, “where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place.”

Put aside your first draft for a day if you can, or at least a few hours. Then come back to it as if someone else wrote it – someone you don’t like, if that helps. Pretending like this will help you look critically at the writing. Does it start with the most important or interesting part? If not, move that part up. As the reader, what would you like to know more about? Add that. What seems unimportant? Delete that.

Such judgments are key to polishing a piece of writing in the “up draft.” Seeing the improvements over your first draft will be an upper for your writing experience!

In the Beginning Quiz

Can you match the artists below with some of their famous beginning lines?

Even these famous singers have struggled with blank page syndrome

A. “I never meant to cause you any sorrow
I never meant to cause you any pain”

B. “Hello, it’s me
I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet”

C. “I was bruised and battered, I couldn’t tell what I felt.
I was unrecognizable to myself.”

D. “Six inch heels, she walked in the club like nobody’s business”

E. “Once upon a time you dressed so fine
Threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?”

F. “I stay up too late, got nothing in my brain
That’s what people say mmm, that’s what people say”

Click here for the answers!

Need help with writing or editing content for your website, blog, email newsletter or brochure? Call Kim Landry at 484-829-0021 or email [email protected].

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