10 steps to put your Blank Page Panic in check
Whoops, I did it again. I added another project to my already overfull plate. I guess it happened sometime this spring when my friend and writer’s career coach, Lee Jessup, finally pushed me over the edge and convinced me to make my trusty Writer’s Wright Journal available for all writers. At the time, it sounded like a fucking fantastic idea. Give back to my writers’ community by putting a tool in front of them that I really, wholeheartedly believe can help my peers accomplish more? Sign me up. Spend months refining the Writer’s Wright to the greatest detail and get the graphic design layouts in order? Sure, I’ll figure it out. Find a printer, pay the bills, design logos, and coordinate print delivery... Okay, I’m stretching, but I’ll get it done… Realize that getting the actual physical journal made wasn’t even half the battle? That I need to set up an online store next, figure out how to drive traffic, market the product, plan for logistics and investment recuperation (which I guess is called ROI, but what the fuck do I know about that)? CUE THE RECORD NEEDLE SCRATCH… NOPE, I DIDN’T PLAN FOR THAT.
Yup, it’s officially time to freak out. I feel overwhelmed and scatter-brained. I’m certain none of this will ever come together. I start getting up earlier and go to bed late. I work overtime. Even abandon keeping the very journal I’ve specifically developed to help writers overcome this exact situation, because I foolishly think that I can’t afford the extra ten minutes… But instead of actually getting shit done, I just stand frozen in front of my tasks. A deer in the headlights – no fight or flight instinct – just a clear collision course with my deadlines.
Sound familiar? Yup, it’s no different than the good old, familiar BLANK PAGE PANIC.
We all know it, we’ve all been there, we’ve all overcome it, and yet it scares the living shit out of us every time we pick up a new project. Whether it’s the panic that makes this hurdle so hard to overcome, or the hurdle that makes the panic, it’s all chickens and eggs unless you manage to get yourself back on track.
Here’s my list of 10 steps writers can take to shake the Blank Page Panic and move their projects forward. (Spoiler: This works for any project, written or not)
- Take a deep breath/walk/drink
Sometimes all it takes is a little distance to see clearly. Try a hike. Maybe a drive? A book? The movies? Meditation if you’re into it. Bottom line -- distract yourself from your mental frenzy, then come back with a clear head.
- Talk to a friend
We all experience it. We all freak out. We can all relate. By stepping away from your computer and talking to a trusted friend (ideally a fellow writer) you’re on your way to normalize your experience, disempower it and likely even hear thoughts and passionate encouragement that will make you fall back in love with your project.
- Give yourself permission to fail
What’s the worst thing that can happen if you fuck it up? Write a list, you’ll see that the stakes really aren’t that high (we’re not saving lives here).
- Write a thorough list of what actually needs to get done
Remember how I stopped using my journal to save time? Well, it turns out that without a plan – without focus – you’re actually only wasting more precious time. So, make a solid plan your priority. Turn your procrastination into writing a comprehensive to do list. Then--
- New Kids on the Block that shit!
I’m saying take it “step by step” – obviously. Without making a comprehensive list of what needs to get done and without breaking that list up into however many little steps it takes, any project seems too overwhelming to tackle it. Mind-ninja yourself by keeping your head down and only focusing on taking it step-by-step… Uh Baby…
- Allow yourself to write the shitty version
A big part of the Blank Page Panic stems from the fear of not being able to pull it off in all the glory you envision it. And who can blame you? Getting it perfect right out of the gate is an impossible task, so – YES – why do we even try??? The fear of not doing the material justice, might be one of the top reasons writers give up, but a very simple way to get around this hurdle is to allow yourself to write the bad version first. Force yourself to write that first draft as fast as you can without ever turning back. Revising is a whole lot easier than filling a blank page.
- Enlist help to get past the silly task hump
I have a hard time asking for help, but I also have a hard time squeezing my passion projects into my already busy days. Often times the initial time-investment (think research, book coverage etc.) is the hardest piece to put in place. If you constantly find yourself postponing your start because of it, simply enlist the help of a friend, or, if you’re in the lucky position to have a few dollars to spend, trusted, eager lower-level writer, research assistant etc. (by the way, there are also lots of apps summarizing books and articles…)
- Remember your intentions
One of the biggest motivators to get past the Blank Page Panic might just be a clear intention. Try to remind yourself why you thought it was a good idea to do this to begin with. Then, sit down and Write. It. Down. If your intentions are powerful and true to yourself, this might just be the most powerful way to bring yourself back on track.
- Remember the bad old days
Our brains have a way of preferring positive memories over negative ones, which is why we often times forget that we’ve been there and have done that. Say you’re struggling with your latest TV pilot. Say you doubt that you’ll ever turn this concept into a functioning series engine. You inevitably find yourself wondering how you’ve ever done it before. It all seemed so easy back then! But the truth is, it never was – you faced the same fears and panics back then. Consciously remembering the hurdles you’ve overcome in the past and how challenging it was might just provide the calming reassurance that you can do it again…
- Be kind to yourself
If you’re harder on yourself than anybody else, raise your hand! Great, now use that hand to pat yourself on the shoulder, say: “We’ll do better tomorrow” and then LET. IT. GO -- Seriously, the more pressure you put on yourself, the less inspired and creative you will be.