The Blank Page

It stares back you. Haunting in it's vast emptiness. Like looking into a blizzard without the excitement of motion. The Blank Freakin' Page.

Like a horror movie it can do you no actual harm, but it can give you chills and instill in one a feeling of despair. I have stared at a lot of blank pages in my life. At it's basest level it is my job.

As a creative professional my job begins with the gathering of information. I talk to clients, read way too much information about their business, pore through vast amounts of information that has everything and nothing to do with their business, get my mind in a whirl about anything and everything "them". Stir up every bit of excitement and energy about who, what, where, when and why they are. Then I sit down with a blank sheet of paper and fear sets in.

That's usually a great time to go to the movies.

I read a book once a long time ago, not my only book but this one was important to me. I have no idea what it was called or who wrote it and if you do, let me know because I would love to have a copy of it. It was an old book about creativity and how to get your thoughts moving in the right direction. It was short, maybe a hundred pages or so. It talked about filling your head with as much information as possible surrounding what you were working on, get your brain whirling as I said earlier, then walk away.

Walk away and allow your subconscious to process all of that information. After a little time the ideas would come more naturally because your brain would have assimilated all of the requisite info and your conscious self could then sort the relevant from the irrelevant and help you process the interesting from the dull.

You'd have to ask my clients whether or not they think the technique works well for me, but I haven't heard any complaints so I'll assume it's doing pretty good.

This technique doesn't solve the problem of the blank page, but it does help to calm the fear that pervades those initial instances.

I had a serious case of "creative block" a few years ago. I was working with a new partner (and it had nothing to do with her, it had set in a few days earlier) and I tried to tell her, but it was hard to explain. She thought it was her and her ideas that I couldn't come around on. That was not true. Her ideas were sound, but no matter how I tried I could come up with none, zero, nada ideas, nor could I come up with anything resembling a workable layout. It was, as they might say in Boston "wicked scary". I felt miserable. For me and for what it did for her.

It lasted about two weeks (which seemed like an eternity) and no matter what I tried nothing came into my head. It was as if I couldn't think properly. Everything I knew had gone out of my head. I actually thought my career might be over. Panic set in one day on a bus ride so bad I almost cried. Almost.

I got home that night pulled out a blank piece of paper and started drawing. I wasn't drawing anything. It was more like scribbling. I took a pencil and just created shapes, scrapes, scratches on the page. I tried to fill the page up, to cover it completely, to wipe out the blank page and replace it with an image, any image. I didn't care what it became I just had to erase the blank page.

Well, the scribbles and scratches, turned into doodles, which turned into more pages of doodles which turned into some figures and some little cartoons. (The examples here are not from that time, but just representational). Nothing substantial had come of any of the drawing except that the next day I had some thoughts. Not big ones, but enough to get back to work with my partner, create a few layouts and get through a meeting. The ideas went to the client, but did not sell. That honor went to a competing team, but the block had been taken down (notice I didn't say destroyed or eliminated, because it is always there hanging in the periphery waiting for it's chance to return) and I was back to creating.

Whew, crisis averted.

Well, look at that. I just covered up another blank page.



  1. Love this post. A very common challenge. There seems to be a ton of tips when you google "overcoming writer's block." Yet they don't seem as interesting as your story here!

    Do you ever find you have spurts of ideas, too?! Seems only fair to coin a phrase that captures that. Shirley there's a book or speech there...hmmm...

  2. Thanks Steve,

    And yes, I find myself also having "spurts" of ideas. And I should (actually I will) create a post about them (thanks for the topic!). The problem with those is directing them to and finding the correct projects. I am doing more and more of that, but as we always discuss, even with 24 billable hours in every day, trying to find time is the challenge.

    I'll work on coining a phrase! If I come up with one I will give you full credit.


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