Tips for Starting or Overcoming the Tyranny of the Blank Page


There is something special about the tyranny of the blank page. On one hand it teases you with unending possibilities. You could start here, or you could start there, but to start at all often feels daunting. Anyone, who has ever had the opportunity to write at one time or another, knows the stark power of the white void. Since the adoption of word processing, the blinking text cursor has also joined in to distract would-be writers.

However, if the blank page always held sway there would not be any novels, articles, or writings of any kind. So, if you find yourself held captive by the blank page, what can you do?

Write something, anything. It sounds counter intuitive to advise someone to write something, when the very problem they are having is not begin able to write, but it works! Usually people get too concerned about writing something useful or beautiful or even coherent that they cannot write anything at all.  So just put it all out there – warts and all. It doesn’t even have to be on topic. You can always delete it later. After my many years of writing, I have discovered that when I follow this method with the intention of deleting crummy writing later, I find that my writing wasn’t so crummy after all. Here are some specific tips for writing something, anything!

  1. Pretend to tell it to a friend. While there are times that you may want your writing to be more formal, the “telling it to a friend” method can always be made more formal in the end. In fact, you could even go find a friend and tell them what you are trying to write. Take notes while you are telling them and then write it down.
  2. Free-write/Brainstorm for 2 or 5 Min. Some people do well with timers, others do not. The trick to this one is that you set a timer for your desired time and just write – anything and everything. You can even write that you don’t know what to write. Eventually, I have found, things start to flow a little more, and if they don’t, then when the timer goes off just take a short break and reward yourself.
  3. Skip the beginning. There is no reason to write the introduction first or even the first line, especially when it is so easy to get hung up on it. So, start in the middle and then come back to the beginning after you are on a roll – by then it wont be a blank page anymore.
  4. Make an outline. My students always groan when I tell them to make an outline. They don’t need an outline; they never use an outline. I don’t really know when people became so opposed to outlines. I find them useful if I need to organize my thoughts, think about how things will flow, or even if I need to just write something, anything! After you develop an outline, you can always just start filling it in. Start with the easy parts and leave the beginning for the end.

“It’s a dangerous business…”

Maynooth Gate

Photography of an archway in Maynooth, Ireland. By L.Phillips, 2010.


“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

-J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

Times of liminality are frightening, exciting, exhausting, and overwhelming. And so, I find myself in one of these times. For the last 10 years my identity has been tied to that of a student, a researcher, and a scholar. I knew my road and I followed it. There were times of difficulty, like when I was trying to finish a grant proposal, and I went into labor with my first child. Still, even in those most difficult times I always knew which way was forward. Now, I am done. I am a PhD, but not an academic. I loved the academy, but I knew after many years in it that my life was going to be outside of it. And so it is. I stand on the edge of a precipice and am entering my new life as a writer and editor.

Welcome. This is my website documenting and sharing my love of writing. It also provides information about how to contact me if you are interested in hiring me for writing, editing,  or researching. I plan on including work on ideas about writing, my own history of writing, some musings about linguistics, and the occasional homage to anthropology. In other words: a little bit of this, and a little bit of that.