Beating The Blank Page

Prompts and exercises to get you writing. 

Writer’s bock is a sneaky beast. Sometimes it hits in the
middle of the project, when your plot and your characters are headed someplace,
but you just can’t seem to get everyone where they need to be. Other times,
that hopeless sense of nothingness occurs when you’re first starting out, when
there’s nothing on the page and we must rely only on our imaginations to start
generating content.

Today, ten tips to get some words on the blank page.
Hopefully, these will get you sitting at the desk and stringing some sentences
together. What you do with those sentences, where they lead, is entirely up to

Many of us have stories we haven’t told, usually
about things we are ashamed of. Perhaps a lie, and infidelity, something of
which we are ashamed. We tend to avoid writing these stories because they are
difficult to tell, but they often make great stories. Give them a fictional
character, or make them purely confessional. Don’t consider the audience, you
are the only person who ever needs to read it. But, just this once, write the
words that have always been too difficult to write.

Decide ahead of time how long you are going to
write. Hold yourself to your time commitment. Even if all you do is stare at
the blank page and dream about a career in accounting. So much of writing is
accountability that sometimes you just have to convince yourself that you’re
serious, that you will spend your writing time at the desk, without

Pick an object. Anything will do. Perhaps a
knick-knack in your writing space, or something you have seen recently and
decided not to purchase. Maybe it’s not a real object at all, but something you
imagine. Write everything you can about the object. Next, write a story about
the two people who desperately want the object.

Using primarily dialogue, write a telephone
conversation in which one person reveals something and another person makes the
decision to give something up. When the conversation is over, see if you can roll
it into a story.

Do a google image search on an artist you are
only vaguely familiar with. Study the images, looking for a character or
setting for a new scene. Let yourself be inspired by unlikely things, and make
yourself write for at least ten minutes on a chosen image before deciding
whether or not to continue.

Think of two short stories you enjoy. Combine
one element from each, and see what happens. Maybe the blind man from Raymond
Carver’s Cathedral hops in the car
with Flannery O’Connor’s road tripping family in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”
What might he and the grandmother discuss?

Visit onewr, where each day a
word is provided at random and users have sixty seconds to freely write. If the
start is good, take your work offline and flesh the piece out more.

Some writing prompts are old saws because they
stimulate strong, descriptive prose so reliably. Don’t discount the value of a
solid prompt. Write about your mother’s hands, a smell from your childhood, a
change in a place that is important to you, a difficult decision, a definitive
moment, a special toy, a lesson learned from a pet. Try writing on these topics
from the perspective of a character you’re just beginning to create.

Pick up the book closest to you in your writing
space. Open it to any page, and identify the first full sentence you see. Write
this sentence on your otherwise blank page. It looks better with a few words on
it, doesn’t it? Write your own version of what comes next. Be looking for the
seed of something original as you go.

10.  Later,
when your writing time has passed and the exercises above have left you
frustrated or hopeful, it’s time to read. Read something outside your comfort
zone; science fiction if you’re a realist writer, something published in the
last year if you’re a junkie for Victorian novelists. Reading is research into
your writing, the more you let yourself discover, the greater the pay-off.


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