Posts made in October, 2017

Facing a Blank Page? Here’s How to Get Started | #Author Toolbox Blog Hop

Posted by on Oct 18, 2017 in #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, Creativity and the Writing Process | 11 comments

Facing a Blank Page? Here’s How to Get Started | #Author Toolbox Blog Hop

I recently heard the quote “I hate to write, but I love having written” (attributed to George R.R Martin, Dorothy Parker, and Frank Norris, among others). After kicking this idea around for a few days I decided that I can’t relate. I love writing. I like the weight of a pen in my hand and the shuffling of my fist as it brushes across the paper. I’m enchanted by the physical act of forming letters and fascinated by the fact that my words change sizes, growing smaller and neater the more focused I am. I even enjoy wrestling with a sentence for an hour to find just the right way to convey a thought clearly to my reader. No, it’s not the writing I hate—it’s getting started.

If you’ve been writing for any amount of time, then you can relate. It’s not only the intimidation of creating something worthy enough to actually put ink on paper. It’s also the effort involved in carving out the time to write, ignoring the needs of my spouse and children to spend a few uninterrupted hours plying my craft, silencing the voice of my inner critic, denying the small voice that calls me impostor… and so much more. Yet every time the writing is done, I consider the effort of getting started worthwhile.

The technique for beginning that I employ most consistently is the practice of timed writing. I first learned of this practice when I found the book Fast Fiction: Creating Fiction in Five Minutes by Roberta Allen (Story Press, 1997). This gem of a writing resource contains a chapter on how to implement the technique, a few chapters about writing short stories, and 300 prompts.

I began utilizing the timed writing technique merely as a way to claim I had done some sort of writing on any given day, then as a way to generate ideas. When my children started school and I returned to the work force, I forced students in my creative writing classes to complete one set of prompts (which I made up) as homework every week night. In my on-level and AP English classes, students practice responding to a single prompt every Tuesday and Thursday. Those victims who groan about the practice later tell me the lessons learned from the technique proved to be very helpful when they had to plan and write an essay for an AP or college entrance exam in a limited amount of time.

How This Works

Implementing the timed writing technique is very simple. All you need is a timer and a list of six prompts. These prompts can be about anything, but should start with the phrase “Write a story about…” For example:


Write a story about a storm in a forest.

Write a story about a craving for beef stroganoff.

Write a story about a mood ring that never changes color.

Write a story about staying up all night.

Write a story about Christmas lights.

Write a story about chasing a dream—and failing.


If you create your own prompts, do it on-the-spot or several days before you plan to use them. You don’t want to be so familiar with them that you’ve had time to plan your response. Part of the technique’s effectiveness lies in spontaneity, so you want to write about the prompt as soon as you can after the initial exposure. If you prefer to use prompts created by someone else, then I highly recommend obtaining a copy of Roberta Allen’s book. You can also search the term “timed writing prompts” on any search engine.

Once you have your prompts and your timer and you’re ready to write, read the first prompt, set the timer for five minutes, and write about the first thing that comes to mind, without stopping, until the timer sounds. This is important because writing without stopping is the key to this technique. This means you don’t take time to ponder the best way to respond, you don’t evaluate the worth of your idea, you don’t worry about finding just the right word… everything your internal editor normally tells you to fix or rework, you ignore for the sole purpose of filling the page with as many words as you can for five minutes.

What happens if your mind goes blank before the five minutes expire? When this happens, think your way to another topic on the page. Don’t stop writing, just record your thoughts. For example, if I’m writing a story about pizza and find I’ve nothing left to say, I might write, “I’m out of thoughts about pizza. I don’t know what to write next. I wonder what’s going on at home? What are the boys doing in their classes today?” and so on. The point is, don’t stop.


How This Helps

By making timed writing a part of your daily writing habit, you are giving yourself permission to ignore a lot of inhibitions that can keep a page blank. Because no one except you will see these exercises, you learn to write honestly, which helps you find your voice. You learn to follow your ideas, which can lead to some great material. And you learn how to conquer the blank page. Currently I use this technique whenever I need to start a new scene (chapter, novel) and I have no idea how to approach it. I tell myself that I’m just playing around so there’s no consequence to having a bad idea and, because I’ve been using this technique for so long, I often end up using the material that began as something I was just playing around with.

What about you? What tips and/or tricks do you use to move from stuck at a blank page to amazingly productive writing session? I’d love to hear your writing hacks in the comments below.


To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, or to join in, click here.

Please note the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop will be taking a break for November and December 2017. We will be back in January with more awesome content!

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