Beating the blank page: How to jumpstart your story

Have you ever sat in front of a blank page, intimidated by its pristine white emptiness? Sometimes, you want to write but you just don’t know where to start. You don’t know how to jump into the story.

I know the feeling. Sometimes I get it at the start of a new book, sometimes at the start of a chapter. The good news is, I’ve developed a little hack that gets the words flowing.

Firstly, try not to worry about despoiling the page. You’re not the first explorer in an antarctic wilderness. You can always delete everything and start again. Empty pages aren’t sacred spaces; they’re expendable. They’re ammunition. So, put away any guilt you may have about messing them up.

The second thing you must realise is that in the long run, the first words you write today don’t matter. You will come back and edit them later. You may even decide to delete this whole first chapter. But right now, the important thing is to get the story going. You can’t edit words that aren’t there.

In physics, objects at rest possess an inertia that needs to be overcome in order to move them. It takes more energy to start something moving than to keep it moving. And stories are the same. So, what we need it a jumpstart to get the ball rolling.

We aren’t going to aim for perfection here. We can’t know what the perfect opening for our story will be until we’ve written a good chunk of it and its shape becomes clearer.

Are you ready?

Okay, open your document and write a single word. Any word at all. Don’t overthink it; just write the first one that comes to mind, whatever it is.

Now, put that word in speech marks, and suddenly it’s a line of dialogue.

On the next line down, write “What?”

Now, you have the start of a conversation, keep it going. Don’t worry about writing descriptions or attributes at this stage. You can fill them in later, once this scene’s achieved the momentum it needs to keep going. Simply alternate lines of dialogue, one after the other, until the conversation starts to acquire a shape and you begin to get a feel for the identities of the speakers.

As I said, you can go back later and edit or delete all this; for now, its purpose is to start you moving. Just keep the voices talking, and see where it leads.

Do you have any hacks to get over writer’s block? Why not share them in the comments below?

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Author: Gareth L Powell