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5 steps for facing down the big blank page

By Lauren Edwards

You know what you want to say. But you can’t get it onto the screen. Each sentence feels wrong. You delete, rewrite, delete, rewrite, and so on. You are facing the big blank page.

It can be overwhelming when you aren’t sure where to begin.

Here are suggestions for getting started.

  1. Be messy at first, while focusing on your audience’s needs. Dump your thoughts into a sloppy pile on the page. Write fragments instead of whole sentences. Make lists. Ramble! Brainstorm questions your audience might ask, and answer them. Don’t judge. Don’t fix. Allow typos. Allow wrong vocabulary and tone. Most of all, don’t write in complete sentences.
  2. Step back from your brain-dump. Print a hard copy and add circles, arrows and notes in the margin as you begin to discern some order in the chaos. Then determine a structure – decide on your central premise and have at least three main points to back it up.
  3. Look for holes and go get more information. Becoming aware of gaps and working to fill them now will save you from having to completely rework a polished draft later. As we all know, tearing up a polished draft is time-consuming and discouraging. Fill holes in your information early! If you’re waiting on someone else for info, stop waiting and start Googling.
  4. Draft, then refine. Now and only now begin to smooth over your sentences and “write well.” This is where you fix the typos and search for the most precise words. Delete words. Shorten sentences.
  5. For an ending, look at your beginning. Come full circle by picking up something from the start and repurposing it for use at the end. But spend time making it short, visual, emotional and catchy. Notice, this is not like a conclusion in an essay; rather, your main point should be at the top, not the bottom. But you can use whatever you wrote at the top as inspiration for your snappy ending.

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Lauren Edwards is a former reporter for the Associated Press. She has been creating, customizing and delivering workshops for science and technology teams since 2000.

WriteCulture is now booking workshops for 2019. Click here to start an exploratory conversation.