What is the blank page blues, you ask? The blank page blues is that feeling you get (at the crossroads of nervousness and desperation) when you stare at a blank word document or piece of paper and have no idea where to begin. You may have an idea for your thesis statement, and some strong points to back up your ideas, but that tricky intro paragraph (and even trickier first sentence) can throw you for a loop. This paragraph has been a formidable opponent of mine through my schooling, and these are five ways that I have overcome this problem in the past:
1. Map It Out
One of the first things that I do when I’m having trouble getting that first sentence down is making a list of all the things that I need to mention during the paper. I like linear outlines to map out my points, but mind maps and other graphic organizers are great too. These different diagrams can help you visualize the shape and the breadth and depth of your argument because you begin to see it physically on paper (at least something is on the page right?).
2. Talk To A Friend Or Say It Aloud To Yourself
If you’re lucky, you may be able to bounce ideas off of a friend working on the same assignment as you. But the technique of verbally working through your argument does not have to be limited to whether you have a friend working on the same assignment. I have found that just talking through the points in your paper is a great way to find the entry point on how to attack the prompt. There have been many phone calls where I have spoken to everyone, from a friend to a roommate to my mother, about the arguments in my paper (you could even try talking to a tutor!). Even though they may not know specific things about what you are writing on, they can offer insight about where there are logical gaps in your argument. I’ve also recorded myself talking about a paper and listened to it back, as I find this provides me with a lot of clarity (though I try to not do this in library stairwells).
I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but it really works. Getting out and moving your body can be a way to either work out some of the anxiousness you feel while writing a paper, or it can be a relaxing break. I have found that when my body is exhausted and I am no longer fidgety, my mind becomes very clear and focused on the task at hand.
4. Remember That You Don’t Have To Start At The Beginning
There is no rule that says you have to start writing your paper from the beginning. I know it may feel unnatural at first, but sometimes when you begin to iron out your supporting arguments you better understand the nuances of what you’re actually arguing. There were so many times where I would write a paper and then my closing paragraph would become my intro paragraph, because that was when some of the loose ends in my head finally came together. This ultimately allowed my thesis to be as clear and concise as possible.
5. Think Of Your Essay Like A Puzzle
Every sentence and idea that you write down doesn’t have to go into the final draft, and some of it honestly shouldn’t. Editing is an important tool for writing, and streamlining your work by using your best arguments and most eloquent phrases will make your paper stand out from the crowd. When writing a paper, I usually keep another file open, and in this file log certain phrases or points that I think of that don’t fit seamlessly into my paper at the moment I think of them. By the end of the paper I have pieced all of these ideas together into the puzzle of my essay.