How To Overcome Blank Screen Syndrome: The Ultimate Guide

Blank Screen SyndromeHave you ever sat staring at the blinking cursor on your blank computer screen wishing words would magically appear?

While planted in your seat you hear the nagging voice inside your head scolding you. It sounds eerily like your third grade teacher Mrs. Barry. So much so that you see her eyes narrow as she wags her pointy red polished forefinger at you.

It’s your own fault Miss Smarty Pants! You put off doing your writing assignment until the last possible moment AGAIN. Do you think that you can throw any old words on the page and dazzle me?”

With these words echoing inside your head, you trudge off to the kitchen for more sugar-fueled coffee and snacks.

But alas with your deadline still looming your computer screen remains void of words. It’s what writers, bloggers, content creators and other creatives fear most.

Stephen King expressed it best: “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

Stephen King Writing Quote

Stephen King Quote reveals blank screen syndrome is real!

I call it “Blank Screen Syndrome” or BSS for short [AKA: Blank Page Syndrome or Blank Blog Post Syndrome].

While not a recognized medical condition, Blank Screen Syndrome is a very real problem. Worse yet, it has an uncanny ability to strike at the most inconvenient times, namely when you’ve got a deadline looming.

The good news is that you can cure Blank Page Syndrome. 

But there’s a catch: You’ve got to put in the hours needed to do the work to build your creative muscles and resilience.

To overcome blank screen syndrome here are 5 habits with tangible tactics to follow. (Here’s an immediate 911 idea generation help.)

Use Persistence and Resilience To Overcome BSS

Blank Screen SyndromeBeing a writer or other creative requires that you show up at the page every day.

According to Stephen King, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” Stephen King #writing #quoteClick To Tweet

 

Even better, King kept every one of his rejection letters on a big hook near his desk as a badge of honor. Rather than hold him back or discourage him, these physical letters were tangible evidence of his progress as a writer.

In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck defined a “[Growth Mindset as believing] that a person’s true potential is unknown (and unknowable); that it’s impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion, toil, and training.” 

Carol Dweck’s Fixed VS Growth Mindsets explained- Diagram via Brain Pickings

Dweck’s research revealed that you need the resilience and tenacity to keep challenging yourself to learn from your past mistakes. This supports Thomas Edison’s persistence. “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

“I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” Thomas Edison #creativity #quoteClick To Tweet

 

Blank Screen Syndrome [BSS] Bottom Line:

  • Adopt a growth mindset to transform and fuel your failures into your future growth by continuing to persistently show up at the blank page despite your fears.

 



5 Steps to Overcoming Blank Screen Syndrome

To break out of Blank Screen Syndrome, here are 5 techniques to build the creative habits to you need to support your art.

Blank Screen Syndrome -5 steps

1. Build your writing muscles and habits

Blank Screen Syndrome-Writing

Avoid blank screen syndrome by building your writing muscles and habits

Developing your creativity requires daily practice. You become a better writer by consistently showing up at the page. “Good writing is not a natural gift, wrote Mad Man David Ogilvy. “You have to learn to write well.”

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld uses his “Don’t break the chain” process to develop better jokes. Like other forms of creative activity, he writes jokes everyday.

To pressure himself to write, Seinfeld hangs a giant wall calendar of an entire year’s worth of dates on one page in his office. After doing his daily writing, he marks a big red X across every day. These red Xs form a chain.

In Seinfeld’s words,“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

Everybody Writes author Ann Handley acknowledges, “Writing well is part habit, part knowledge of some fundamental rules, and part giving a damn.”

“Writing well is part habit, part knowledge of some fundamental rules, and part giving a damn.” @MarketingProfs #writing #blogging #contentmarketingClick To Tweet

 

Actionable Writing Tactics To Overcome Blank Screen Syndrome:

  • Write every day. Schedule time to write every day, preferably the same time every day. (BTW–I use these writing tools.)
  • Create writing-related rituals. Have set time, location and surroundings to facilitate getting into your writing. Create a physical “Do Not Disturb – Writer at Work Area.”
  • Break your writing rituals. To tap into your creative muse whenever necessary, occasionally test using other writing environments.

 

 

2. Regularly indulge in childlike play

How to avoid blank screen syndrome

John Cleese suggestion: Use childlike play to allow your brain to work on your creative ideas

At the heart of creativity is a child-like wonder that allows us to get immersed in problems away from the pressures of our daily routines and work.

John Cleese cites University of Sussex’s Professor Brian Bates’ research in his talks on creativity. Using architects, professionals dependent on both creative and analytical skills, Bates found that the more creative architects recreated a childlike approach to thinking that’s connected to the unconscious.

To explain the need for space to play Cleese references Guy Claxton’s Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind. In Cleese’s words, “Tortoise mind doesn’t expect clarity; it doesn’t know where the illumination is going to come from. The language of the unconscious is images. That also means a lot of times when you’re being very creative you can feel very confused.” 

This may be why many accomplished writers incorporate a walk in nature into their daily routines.

When I studied with Poet John Yau, he forced us outside of our writing comfort zone with assignments that set unusual constraints, a key element for creativity.

Actionable Writing Tactics To Overcome Blank Screen Syndrome:

  • Schedule unplugged time to allow your brain to play. Be alone with your thoughts, preferably in nature.
  • Give work teams space to avoid forcing creative decisions. Even if you’re up against due dates, create an illusion of time to think. It worked for Hitchcock.
  • Set constraints on your work to fuel creativity. Be like John Yau.
  • Find creative approaches that work for you. Test new writing methods to improve your output. But don’t sacrifice quality for quantity.

 

3. Free yourself from your anti-creativity demons

Blank Screen Syndrome

Get rid of your inner critic and writing demons to avoid blank screen syndrome

You don’t need a therapist to stop listening to your inner creative critics whether it’s family members, teachers, or even your BFF.

Start by understanding that everyone has an inner voice that rattles on constantly.

Unfortunately your inner voice is often your worst enemy because it tends to be hypercritical. Since the voice is inside your head, no one talks about it for fear of looking crazy. To help, here are 7 steps to overcome writing demons.

Use morning pages to get these toxic inner conversations and criticisms out of your head onto paper or screen. As a result, your brain’s able to focus on being creative. Morning pages deal with your inner thoughts, not your writing. Don’t stop to think or edit while you’re moving these words out of your head.

Actionable Writing Tactics To Overcome Blank Screen Syndrome:

  • Write “Morning Pages” every day. Have a notebook or document file where first thing every day you transcribe everything that’s in your mind. Do this first thing while you’re still in a semi-dream state without editing, correcting or reading it.
  • Use positive self-talk. Until you’re able to squash your non-stop inner critic, tell yourself that you’re a creative person. If necessary, place post-it notes in visual range of your desk or computer.

 

4. Give yourself permission take control of your life and time to write

Blank Screen Syndrome

Give yourself permission to write–Take control of your time

You can’t just dream about wanting to be a writer or other creative type. You must take responsibility for your life and find the time to do it regardless of your other time constraints and commitments including work and family.

To do so follow Mark Twain’s advice and write first thing in the morning, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

Follow Mark Twain's advice to invest in your writing “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” #Writing #QuoteClick To Tweet

 

If you want to be a creative, pay yourself first by practicing your art regardless of what you have to do to make the necessary time.

I committed to writing when I was working full time at Citibank. To have time I woke up an hour before getting ready for work. Similarly Andy Crestodina is using an early morning writing routine to update Content Chemistry.

Further, I took courses in Manhattan and spent my vacations at writing retreats to improve my skills.

To draft his first book, Can We Do That? Peter Shankman took a non-stop flight to Tokyo to have an uninterrupted writing time on the plane.

Author (link to affiliate page) Mark Schaefer dedicates concentrated periods of time when he’s not traveling to writing books.

Actionable Writing Tactics To Overcome Blank Screen Syndrome:

  • Schedule time to write every day. Treat writing time as a sacred appointment.
  • Test creative retreats. Learn and be with other creative people. I invested my vacation time in writing retreats.
  • Have a detailed outline and a schedule for unstructured writing time. Consider your writing insurance policy.
  • Participate in National Novel Writing Month. It helps by setting constraints.

 

5. Act like a writer (or creative)

Avoid Blank Screen Syndrome by acting like a writer

In today’s information-rich environment, practicing a creative art is challenging since you need to reduce your outside stimulation including screen time with computers, smartphones and televisions.

Indulging in couch potato activity dulls your brain. While the moving figures stimulate your mind, they give you a false sense of activity.

Instead invest in yourself—feed your mind by reading. This approach made Warren Buffet successful.

Buffet estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading and thinking. As his partner Charlie Munger says,“Go to bed smarter than when you woke up.”

Author Ryan Holiday explains, “Reading must become as natural as eating and breathing to you. It’s not something you do because you feel like it, but because it’s a reflex, a default.”

“Reading must become as natural as eating and breathing to you. It’s not something you do because you feel like it, but because it’s a reflex, a default.” @RyanHoliday #reading #writingClick To Tweet

 

Actionable Writing Tactics To Overcome Blank Screen Syndrome:

  • Read widely and daily. Go beyond the latest news and business books, study literature.
  • Capture fleeting creative ideas before they vanish. Don’t depend on your brain to remember them because it thinks that it’s finished its work. Instead jot down or dictate notes when you have the ideas.
  • Develop what Cal Newport calls “Deep Work”. Schedule time for focused work into your weekly plans.

 

The Blank Screen Syndrome Conclusion (also for Blank Blog Post Syndrome)

Don’t let Blank Screen Syndrome (BSS) immobilize you!

Instead take control of your time and your life to become the writer or creative you want to be. This isn’t pollyanna platitudes.

Adopt a growth mindset to create content based on building your creative muscles and habits due to constant practice. Fail faster to learn how to become more creative.

After stifling your inner critic, stop using creative approaches associated with painful memories.

Unlike your third grade composition where you had to start at the top of the blank page, you’re free to start anywhere. Start writing where the energy of your ideas are and let them flow. Take a page from Hollywood where movies are filmed to minimize actor time on location.

While you’re at it, stop romanticizing your all-nighters! Instead get at least 8 hours of sleep so your brain can do its creative work.

Trust that over time you’ll develop a process that works for you.

Go on become the best creative person you can be.

Give yourself permission to bloom.

Just. Write. Now.

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

Editor’s Note: This article has been significantly expanded and updated. It was initially published on  


Heidi CohenHeidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies.
You can find Heidi on FacebookTwitter and Google+.

 

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6 Responses to How To Overcome Blank Screen Syndrome: The Ultimate Guide

  1. Thanks for all the great information. I have so many friends who don’t want their own blogs, but they want blogging experience. I will definitely pass this on.

  2. Obehi Okoawo says:

    Thanks for sharing, really nice.

  3. NxJewell says:

    Thanks for your advice Heidi. Your penultimate paragraph particularly resonates with me. I’m still a novice blogger and I have found a writing style I never knew I had through blogging.

    When I think of something I really want to share I start writing where the feelings and energy are. It feels like something jumbled up in my head that I want to explore further. Part way through it seems to be unravelling like a piece of knitting coming undone (not sure if this is going to come together as I’d like) and I find myself rapidly trying to gather up any dropped loops (thoughts). Often at this stage certain sections don’t really make sense but, as you say, it’s okay to go back and alter it over and over until you’re happy with it. By the time I reach my conclusion I feel like a circle that has been round and reached the starting point, although I don’t always end up back where I started!

    My writing is quite reflective and often cathartic. That’s where my personality comes through because it gives readers a chance to think, “I get that.”

    I’m still nervous about posting so I run it all past my husband in case I have inadvertently said something daft. He is always positive and if he criticises my blog he has a sensitive manner about it which is increasing my confidence. For anyone feeling apprehensive it is worth finding someone you trust who is supportive to read through posts until you are comfortable posting.

    • Heidi Cohen says:

      Nxjewell–Thank you for sharing your perspective. As a new blogger, it can take time to get your voice and the habit of blogging. It can be useful to have someone read your posts before they go live. Good luck and keep blogging. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

  4. susan says:

    I appreciate all this useful information.