The blank page mocks me. “You can’t do this. You’re a hack. You can’t think of anything to write because you only think you’re a writer. Even when you do get something down it sucks, so why don’t you close the laptop and go watch CSI reruns?”
I can’t just sit here and stare at the empty screen. I have to write something. But…I have an endless number of excuses, the main one being that I can’t type. I’m up to 120 mistakes per minute, and I use the backspace key almost as much as I use the space bar. But that’s why there’s spell check. I don’t have to spell it right, I don’t have to use perfect grammar, I just have to write.
Otherwise, I’m a prisoner of war.
They exercised, for one thing. Free writing is good exercise. Just type whatever is on your mind at the moment. Not a story, just a collection of random thoughts. Do that for 10 minutes, and then see if anything grabs your interest. If not, at least the page is not blank anymore.
POWs found clever ways to connect with each other. Morse code, hand signals in passing, whispering in the dark, they came up with a way to let each one know he was not alone. How do you connect with other writers? Try a writer’s group that meets in person or online, you read each other’s work, commiserate, encourage, and teach each other to write better. Failing that, read. Read books and articles on writing and see what inspires you. Read a book by your favorite author. After all, that’s an excellent way to connect with that person. If all else fails, watch a TV show critically. Think about the writer’s plot line, look for writing styles in the dialogue, examine each setting and look for ways that setting contributes to the scene, and then write a description of that setting, or rewrite the dialogue using a character of your own devising. For instance, give them an ethnic identity, a different accent or dialect, or change their sex. Connect with the writers of that show by interacting with what they wrote.
POWs also looked for weaknesses in their captors. This is the easiest thing of all to do. Pick up a newspaper and circle the typos and grammar errors. Do the same thing with a book. Watch a TV show you hate, and critique it. Tear apart the writing style, rewrite the awful dialogue, add details and take out unnecessary stuff, and imagine better scenery. You’ll be surprised by how good a writer you are.
Finally, POWs learned what they needed to know to survive. For me, that’s typing and grammar. You might have spelling problems that hold you back, or maybe description is not your forte. Whatever skills you feel you lack, learn more about them, and practice them until they don’t hold you prisoner anymore. You don’t have to write a story to write a description of something, or to create a character, or to type up a conversation between two people. Read books that focus on your problems and learn from other authors who have overcome those same issues. Exercise your writing “muscles,” ferret out your weaknesses and learn what you need to know to beat them. Luckily for me, I’m learning typing and grammar while I practice all of these things. I do them often, because the blank page is always trying to stop me from doing what I love.
Don’t remain a prisoner of war. Write something, and escape.