You cannot edit a blank piece of paper

Everyone has been there. It might be an essay, an email, a poem, a manuscript or even a blog piece about getting words down, and it might well have a deadline, but instead of writing it you end up staring at a blank screen or a piece of paper. Suddenly, you realise you need a cup of tea. Or you need to wash the dishes you’ve been putting off. Or you have time for an episode of that show first. Or…

Sometimes, it’s just not about procrastination (we’ll be writing more about that topic later). Sometimes, it’s the worry that what you write is simply not going to be good enough. This thought can be particularly niggling if it’s an essay that has a lot riding on it or if it’s a book idea that you’ve been nurturing for years. It can be intimidating, scary even, but you should get the words down anyway.

The author Terry Pratchett said, ‘The first draft is just you telling yourself the story’ and who are we to argue with such a legendary storyteller? The honest truth is that the first words you write might not be good enough as they are. But just because they are written does not mean they are set in stone. The first words you write are a starting point, a springboard to build your ideas from, a collection of sentences that you can go back to edit. And tweak. And rework. And you can do that again and again until you’re happy. Or maybe you won’t be completely happy – you just don’t want to edit them anymore. That can be enough too. It might mean that the words you end up with look nothing like the ones you started with, but you wouldn’t have got to that point without getting those first words down on the page.

This is not true only when you have a blank page. It can then be tempting to work and rework the first few paragraphs you did manage to get down until they are perfect, adding pressure to yourself for the rest of your work to be up to the same caliber, and conveniently ignoring that those words are still waiting to be written in the first place.

You don’t need to face the challenge alone, however. There are various tools or groups that can encourage you as your word count creeps up. An easy one is working to the Word count feature in your Word processor – only allow yourself a break once you hit another 100 words. Often, you’ll find that they come easier once you get going and 200 hit the page before you know it. Students can often find forums (online or through your school) with other students taking the same subjects. Not much can be more motivating than knowing someone else has already written 500 words on a topic you haven’t got past the title for. For novel writers, there are writing groups (online or in person) and November means ‘National Novel Writing Month’ – literally getting down 50,000 words in whatever state they may be before the month is out.

However you do it, and whatever your reason, get those words down!

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