Ed Carter, September 30, 2021
We met Ed Carter here on August 19, with his article on disabled parents starting small businesses. His first post was well received, earning forty-five Likes. He’s back now, helping writers get past their blocks.
Former columnist Charles Krauthammer once wrote: “I have a horror of the blank page. I simply cannot write on a blank page or screen. Because once I do I start to fix it, and I never get past the first sentence.” The tyranny of the blank page, the anxiety of writing, is a common fear among writers—where to start, how to begin, what voice to use, the enormity of the task at hand can be absolutely overwhelming. Writers claim that it causes a litany of physical responses, from fatigue to joint pain and irritability. Fortunately, as with any stress response, there are tactics that often help writers get the ball rolling and approach the work with vigor and optimism.
Get real about workload
Sometimes, a massive workload with deadlines lined up seemingly every hour becomes so imposing that a writer may simply toss up her hands and decide it’s just not worth the mental stress and strain. One of the best ways around that is to get real with your workload. Assess your ability to complete projects based on a realistic and objective estimate of your personal productivity and the rate at which you normally write.
If possible, get in the habit of asking for more time before accepting an assignment. It’ll make life easier for your client or editor, and you’ll build trust by being honest with them. If you’re just having trouble getting through assignments on time, it’s probably time to cut back on the workload. It goes against the grain for most writers, especially freelancers who are paid on an assignment-by-assignment basis. Think of it as being fair with your client and with yourself. If you can do that, it’ll be a lot easier to face that first blank page each day.
Good personal habits
It’s hard to think clearly and write well if you’re feeling sluggish and lack energy. Rethink your eating habits, including when and what you’re eating. Follow a healthy diet featuring plenty of fruit and vegetables as well as whole grains and protein. A balanced diet provides the energy you need to keep going when you hit a creative brick wall and need to keep pushing. You’re a lot less likely to become apathetic if you have energy and are feeling good. And don’t skimp on breakfast so you have energy to get off to a good start in the morning. Try meditating or do yoga before you sit down to work. Set aside a quiet room at home for meditation, a refuge for focusing your thoughts. Also, make sure that this room is decluttered and tidy; a chaotic space can cause you to experience an increase in anxiety and stress, which will derail your efforts to relax.
Alter your daily agenda
Reassess how you organize your day. Many of the most successful writers prefer to rise early and get their work done during the morning hours when their brains are sharper and their creativity is at a peak. Some prefer to write late at night when everything’s quiet. Whichever you prefer, try organizing your work day based on when you’re most productive. If you’re a morning writer, make a point of not oversleeping, of getting up by 8 am and sticking with it until lunchtime, or until it’s time for a break.
Make a point of getting up and moving around for a few minutes to get the blood flowing and to prevent getting too stiff and uncomfortable. If you normally eat lunch at noon, don’t give in and wolf down leftover pizza at 10:30 because you’re struggling.
Hit the sack
Writers are sometimes tempted to burn the midnight oil, especially when the work gets really busy. It might work for a while, but if it means you’re not getting the sleep you need, it will catch up with you. Make a point of getting to bed at the same time every night and getting out of bed at the same time each morning so your body gets used to a regular sleeping/waking rhythm.
Do yourself a favor and arrange your workday based on when you’re most productive. Remember that it’s important to keep working, to keep trying, because if you do, your creativity and experience will see you through in the end. The blank page may seem like an insurmountable hurdle; in reality, it’s little more than a temporary inconvenience.
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