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How To Get Past The Blank Page By Creating Urgency

Posted By Darren Rowse 26th of October 2009 Writing Content 0 Comments

In this post Roman from How this Website Makes Money shares some suggestions on how to create urgency to get past bloggers block.

Sunday morning.  You have everything ready.  Hot coffee on your right side, a crisp bagel on your left, computer on and ready.
You have the whole day to write.  All week the post has been forming in your head and now all you have to do is write it down.  Word processor opens, fingers posed over keyboard.  Go.
A few minutes pass and nothing happens.  The page remains blank.  The post that was so clear in your head becomes fuzzy.  What is the point of it again?  How was it going to start?
Ten minutes have passed and the word processor is gone – you are now doing your online banking.  Then you check the news, read an email from grandmother, and finally you scan your favourite blog for tips on how to write good posts.
Half the day gone and you have not started to write. 
The blank page is a major stumbling block for most writers.  Including me.    And the worst part is I know that if I just start writing and fill the page with words then my writing will begin roll.  It is just a matter of getting past the blank page and writing the first few paragraphs.
Over the last couple years I have come up with some techniques to get past the blank page.  The techniques work on the principle of creating urgency.  Not an illusionary sense of urgency – real urgency.  I create a situation in which I need to get words on the page or else something bad happens.
Here are a few suggests that you can use to create urgency and force yourself past the blank page.  

Hold It In Just A Little Bit Longer

The worst thing that can happen when you are writing and on a roll is to be interrupted by bodily needs.  Your rhythm and train of thought can be lost by the ritual – walk, do, flush, wash, sit.  To avoid this you usually go to the bathroom before you start writing.  But if you want to conquer the blank page  this is a mistake.
To create urgency drink two large glasses of water.  Wait a half hour or until you feel a slight tinge in the bladder.  Sit down at your computer and promise yourself that you will not go to the bathroom until you have written at least one page. 
At first you will stare at the blank page, but as soon as the tinge turns into a pinch you will start writing.  And as more time passes you will write faster and faster.  This method creates a direct relationship between time and urgency – the more time that passes the greater the urgency. 
With this method you won’t be doing your best writing, but that is not the point.  The point is to get past the blank page.  A bloated bladder will force you to write.  After you return relieved you can peacefully recheck your work and continue writing.

The Evil Eye At The Mom and Pops Coffee Shop

It has been said that J.K Rowling wrote parts of Harry Potter at Starbucks.  Not hard to believe – at Starbucks you see lots of people with their laptops.  Starbucks provides a nice cozy place to write away from the distractions of home.  The atmosphere is pleasant and the employees think nothing if you spend half a day there sipping a Short no sugar, no cream, coffee of the day.
But that is also the problem with Starbucks – no urgency. Nobody cares if you sit there all afternoon staring at a blank screen.
You need to go to a small mom and pops coffee shop, preferably while the owner is working behind the counter.  Order a coffee and sit down at one of the three tables in the shop.  Open your laptop and promise yourself to write one page before you leave.
Bringing out your laptop you will receive your first sour look from the owner.  The owner does not like you.  For her the faster a customer drinks their coffee and leaves the better – people who occupy a table for hours sipping a single coffee are bad for business. 
After half an hour you will begin to feel the evil eye – this is good.  Hopefully all the other tables are occupied and people are forced to hover around with no place to site.  At this point the owner will detest you.  At any time she might come to your table and ask you to leave – a confrontation you desperately want to avoid.
In this situation is it impossible to obliviously sit motionless in front of your laptop.  This is urgency creation at its finest.  You will be writing like mad to get the hell out of there.

First Thing In The Morning

When somebody says they will do something ‘the first thing in morning’ they are lying.  Morning begins when you open your eyes.  The first thing you do is get out of bed, go to the bathroom, have a shower, coffee and get dressed.  It is after all these things are done that you begin to do the ‘first thing in the morning’ tasks.
If you want to get past the blank page then do not lie about ‘first thing in the morning’.  Do your writing  first thing in the morning.  Open your eyes and go directly to the computer.  Regardless if you are in the nude or sporting a nightcap, go directly to the computer.
You are not in your best form – your brain is still sleeping.  But with little crust chunks in your eyes and the taste of plaque on your teeth you will be typing away so that you can do all the second thing in the morning stuff.

Smoking Can Cause Writing

If you have an addiction you are in luck.  Addictions make it easy to create urgency.  Smoking is a great example.
Lets say you are sitting at home watching TV.  The urge comes – you want a cigarette.  You could simply light one up and fill your blood with nicotine, but why throw away this great writing opportunity.  Instead of lighting the cigarette, sit down at the computer and place the cigarette in front of you.  Promise yourself that you will not light it until you have written a page.
People who are otherwise rational and respectable will stand in the freezing cold behind a dumpster for a cigarette.  Addictions are powerful, you need to harness that power to get past the blank page.  Your body will be begging you to light that cigarette.  Tell your body – yes you can have it as soon as I finish writing a page.  Every cell in your body will be helping you write that page.  Like an old teletype machine,  words will start to appear on the screen.
Don’t smoke?  No problem, I am sure you have some other addiction.  Use its power to create the urgency you need to fight the blank page.

Create Your Own Urgency

These are just some techniques you can use to create urgency.  Besides situations you can create yourself there are also those that come unexpectedly.  You need to learn to spot them and take advantage.
A good example is the method I used to start writing this post.  A few weeks ago I woke up with the flu, sore throat, fever, and runny nose – I felt like crap.  All I wanted was to have hot tea and lay wrapped up in my bed covers  mumbling incoherently.
Although I was far from being mentally healthy, I did not miss this rare opportunity to create urgency and triumph over a blank page.  I wrapped a blanket around myself and sat down at the computer.  “I promise to write at least one page before I lay down, put a bag of ice on my head, and drink my tea.”

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.
  1. Hilarious! So all that tea I drink could become a motivational tool.

  2. Excellent tips. I’m often stuck with a blank page the night before I need to publish a post.

    Unfortunately, my only addiction is to using a computer. I guess I need to start writing out my posts by hand, then :(

  3. And when you do all this and see that you finished your article, you know and feel that you made something great and useful.

    But sometimes there are days when you have no inspiration, no great idea what to write about. And this is sometimes good. You write an article what are you struggling with when you are not motivated for blogging.

    So you must use every situation to make the best from it.

  4. I am sorry; I can’t help it. I’m wondering why so many who are blogging complain of writer’s block. I felt I HAD to begin blogging because of the urgency of the matter at hand. There is a fire that burns insided of me, saying, “The truth must be told!” and “We have to get to the bottom or this or that…”

    Are too many people blogging for the sake of blogging without having a true purpose? Is that why I keep reading about requests for inspiration?

    It is a good discipline to create urgency to get the work done before the play in any job, so these are useful suggestions for that. Still, it begs the question: Why do so many bloggers need so much help getting inspired to write?

  5. I plan my topic the night before I go to bed then work on it first thing in the morning after having a glass of milk. If I don’t have any idea in mind before I go to bed, most probably the next day, I wouldn’t be writing anything at all.

  6. Mmm – drinking 2 glasses of water is somewhat taking the piss, but generally good advice to follow. Will go forth and retweet,

  7. Darren really great tips.It is is the common behavior of every blogger.It’s not easy to start but if you start then it’s half of done.
    I mean initiative of any work is half done but in the blogging field you need really done.
    If you write any single sentence then you can create more then 10 sentences from one.

  8. Better than going to a mom and pop coffee shop is to go to a restaurant with internet access.

    Although I know it is different in Europe and perhaps other places, in the United States you get pushed in and out of a restaurant table pretty quickly. There’s really no opportunity to hang around and take up space. You’ll get moved out pretty quickly by the wait staff, who work essentially for tips and don’t want you hanging around too long!

  9. All my life I’ve been told to write, usually by the person I was sharing a true story with. However, my hadicaps only seemed to multiply whenever I contemplated what tech knowledge and equipment I was being told I would require to put those suggestions into action.The stories I’m prompted to discuss, have the flaw that, while fighting to stay alive, there was little time to learn the basic skills so needed to write the dang thing, with anything but pen&paper. Therfore, It’s not lazziness that delays, it’s the gapping holes in my understanding of the tech realm and how to aquire the needed knowledge. This failing is directly responsible for the need 4 me to feed info, via Twitter for free.. And as many of my musings end up in other, more knowledgable hands , I find myself feeling a twinge of resentment. Yet I understand some info should not b withheld, just because the credit is givin to another. I’m not one to ask others for help, relizing most have very real needs and responsiblities to others, so.. I wait for someone to show me the how. Then I can save my few left over pennies to buy the ???. It’s like I’ve stepped out of one reality into another. The diff being upbringing.

  10. Great tips! I well kow the feeling of sitting down to write that perfect post and it vanishes into thinning hair. :)

  11. Of all the “creating urgency” tips I have ever seen these have got to be, hands down, the most practical and amusing ones ever.

    Those other “creating urgency” tips fail on me because I don’t fall victim to psychological tricks (when I play them on myself), but these have a great shot of working.

    – Jeffery

  12. This was a very interesting (and enjoyable) post. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a post advocating smoking and not going to the bathroom before (at least not in the same article:).

    I agree that creating urgency is important to help get anything done. Instead of using negatives, why don’t you try a positive? Some sort of a treat (that is not deadly) like downloading an album from iTunes when after you accomplish what you set out to do.

  13. I like the idea of creating an urgency, but I normally write some notes before writing a post. So when I am about to write the post, all I need to do is to elaborate the points and keep writing.

    There are times when I have the title of the post ready and no short notes, then I feel like blank. I will now experiment with this urgency trick in those cases

  14. I use the idea of creating urgency myself, all the time, but many of your suggestions are new to me. They should be fun to try out! My personal favourite urgency creators are the site Write or Die (http://lab.drwicked.com/writeordie.html), which punishes you in various ways you can choose for stopping to type, and unplugging my laptop that now only lasts 20 minutes on battery. Works like a charm. :D

  15. Hi:

    Very unique perspective on writing. Creating urgency is somewhat of an equivalent of setting a deadline whose expiration is going to cause something bad to happen.

    That is how it works in the real world. I couldn’t stop but think of additional ways to create urgency:

    -write your friend a check with a set amount of money and he will cash if you don’t have an article written by a certain time
    -plug in other things to your day that create commitment to other people – go on a date, have a coffee with your friend, promise somebody to fix a problem

    I agree with Rena (http://renareich.com/) about creating more positive reinforcements which will help you form a habit in the long run.

    My suggestion, in addition to the suggestions in the article, would be to commit yourself to something that is completely out of your control and fill your life with other exciting things to do. I think that would really encourage you to get something on that blank page.


  16. As a casual blogger, I have never faced the infamous Blogger’s Block but as an affiliate marketer that has to write 20 to 50 lengthy articles per week, your tips can be very helpful indeed but I like your ‘Create Your Own Urgency’ tip most because it seems to work best for me.

  17. I’m having trouble with this right now actually. I want to write, and I have some ideas in my head, but nothing is actually happening. Getting this post was great. I like the idea of creating a sense of urgency. That’s good, and I bet the bathroom break will help.

    The thing I do is try to just type. Doesn’t matter if it’s on the topic I’m trying to blog on or not. That’s not important. Once I get juices flowing, my blog post usually does too.

  18. These are nice and humorous tips. I specially liked the tip about washroom. I might try that one out – but not sure that the article I write will be the best one.

  19. It is good example.
    But never sleep before writing because when you sleep then no article to write/

  20. Lol – drinking lots of water and holding it until you’ve written X number of words is a good tip.

    Alas, urgency is often not the problem as much as the lack of time is …

  21. I totally agree with Kelly. If you are a blogger, why is it so difficult to write.

    J.K. Rowling did not have a problem writing at Starbucks.

    But, I am drinking my coffee and eating my toasted bagel at the moment :)

  22. Observer says: 10/26/2009 at 5:17 am

    Are you trying to make up with this Roman guy darren? He used to criticize you like hell. He even wrote nasty things about Problogger on his blog. He said your advice is useless. Wonder what brought him here today? And you are very generous. It takes an extraordinary human to be this forgiving man. God bless you, and god bless Roman too

  23. Wow, I thought I was the only one who did this sort of thing. I don’t blog as much as I wish I did, but I do have to code certain things for people and it’s very easy to get distracted.

    I will force myself to finish this page of coding before I can go get a snack/drink. I’ll also use the bathroom trick when I really don’t want to do something but really need to get it done.

    I think the only trick on here I would be a little hesitant to try is the one about doing something right when you wake up. I could never get directly on the computer after opening my eyes! :P

  24. This is funny!! But it would never work for me, I can’t imagine…urgency on any of these levels would be sooo distracting, I wouldn’t be able to write a thing! Especially someone giving me the evil eye!

  25. Oh wow. The strangest techniques ever. These will work.

    Going to try them!

  26. Have to say it awesome tips , but i was unable to accept that cigarette as a motivational tool, many people will get awesome ideas when they smoke. may be what you said might be true have to try it your way some time …

  27. These are very funny and interesting tips! Personally I have been distracted from blogging for a while, and now want to get back into it. I am sure these awesome tips will help motivate me when I am stuck. Thanks D!

  28. Kelly Young, great comment. I as well some times wonder whether people are not blogging just for the sake of blogging without any real inspiration. People have to answer that themselves.

    I can understand that once some one is blogging for living than he has to keep delivering on schedule, so you need extra inspiration here and there. Also, depends how deep the topic is your blog is about.

  29. Think all day, let idea formulate, put kids to bed, knock back two, maybe three, glasses of wine, let it flow. The writing that is. Works every time.

  30. Nice useful article. The “The Evil Eye At The Mom and Pops Coffee Shop” part make me laugh. But, yeah, the evil eye can make us write faster. :)

  31. Highly relevant – thanks for the great (and comical) read!

  32. Tisk tisk. You shouldn’t be encouraging smoking.

  33. Seriously i will pass on this tip.

    When you are mentally tired, just get yourself some rest and try to write again.

    This method will only encourage you to write gabbage since you are in a state of duress.

    My suggestion is to give yourself ample time to write. Monitor yourself. If you can’t write within 3 days, give yourself 4 or 5 days then.

  34. I blog based on ‘problem’, share the solution or asking for help :-)
    No need to rush for regular post.

  35. Now that was not what I was expecting!!! Very funny post… As a mom blogger my urgency comes in the form of little people needing my attention or the next meal or helping with school work… I know I only have so much computer time and thats it. The point is I am a mom first and blogger well down the line of priorities… I have to grab my moments… no luxury of a free afternoon in a coffee shop… My posts are always written on the run, else all the wheels come off. I like posting everyday I just have to keep writing, photographing, thinking… blogging!!! Life is quite urgent enough for me without drinking a gallon of water!!!

  36. I get up and start writing. I go straight from getting out of bed to writing. This is no joke. It’s almost a problem. Later, I’ll get coffee. After that, something to eat.

    I can’t imagine writer’s block at the moment. I have 60 articles in draft, at least 45 are viable. Not nearly enough time to crank them all out. Best I can do is chunks of 7 at a time once a week. Takes about 12-15 hours. About 2 hours per article.

    And whole series of articles in my head. And laying around on scrap paper. I may need to invest in dictation technology.

  37. It’s a very useful tips. I am a new Blogger. I am always looking for same kinda information. It will helps me lot. Thanks for sharing information with me.

  38. Hey Dave Doolin:

    Maybe you should just try and be a little nicer to yourself and try putting some of those articles out there. One by one. It will help you. You will get feedback, you will get a sense of direction.

    I know sometimes, I feel like I have to get all of this information out of me ASAP and that there is no time! But, just try and slow down. Slow down and think and just write. Do not worry about what good and what is not, eventually by just getting them out there, you will be able to reduce your stress and get more motivation.

    Love yourself, don’t punish yourself for having so many great ideas that you are keeping away from the world!


  39. The theory of making yourself go to the bathroom but holding it in to make yourself write or even get other things done that need to get done is very good!

    I often do that, because it truly works!

  40. That is a nice tip when we meet the page black problem, rocks.

  41. Great ideas. I can vouch for the smoking idea, I do it everyday that I am working at home.

    It is absolutely effective. It makes me more productive than I otherwise would be.

  42. Great post. Perfect for my Monday AM, first thing in the morning – oops it’s 9:00 already procrastination. Heading to blog NOW!
    Thanks for the push!

  43. Not sure of the “netiquette” of this (if it’s not OK, feel free not to post this comment), but I just wrote a guest post about overcoming writer’s block at http://www.robswebtips.com/get-rid-of-writers-block/

    I’m not sure I’d advocate smoking, or risking a bathroom accident, as a cure for writer’s block. How about promising yourself a better reward? Maybe a coffee break? Or reading that email from your grandma?

  44. I always shared the view that there is no such thing as “motivation” there are just people who get on and do stuff, and there are those that don’t.

    Motivation isn’t a character trait, you don’t need tricks and gimmicks, all anyone has to do is go and do something. It really is that easy.

  45. Finally, a refreshing approach to yet another post about writer’s block. I’ve been tired of the same suggestions found on billions of sites (even this one!) You know: go for a walk, surf the internet, comment on other blogs, read the newspaper, on and on. This is good…but I’ve got the ultimate in creating severe urgency: Eat an Exlax tablet, wash it down with multiple cups of coffee while sitting on a public bench with no public restroom nearby. That should do the trick.

  46. I thought I was the only one who held my bladder.

    I reward myself after writing. Last night, I wouldn’t allow myself to watch Don Draper drape himself all over another woman until I had written a good bit. Mad Men is always my reward.

  47. Instead of all this, just type those words which can be keywords of your post. Write one word and press enter and that write another one and press enter. Keep doing it till 11 – 15.

    Now pick one word through which you can start and start writing …

    Pick related other one and so on … :D

  48. Wow! These are certainly some interesting ways to get to writing. To be honest, I’ve never thought of any of these.

  49. Hello,

    Thank you all for your feedback. On my blog I am use to 2 or 3 comments per post. Getting the pleasure of reading 40+ comments is a new experience for me.

    There is one comment in particular that peaked my interest – the one from Observer. It is true that I had something to say about problogger commentors, but it was far from nasty. Nor did I claim that Darren’s advice is useless.

    It is unfortunate that you did not leave any contact information on your comment. I would like to contact you and find out what gave you those impressions. You left only three clues that reveal who you might be: 1) you are the ‘Observer’ 2) you know something about hell and 3) you have the authority to bless me. Are you who I think you are – are you Him?

    Him or not, send me an email and I will try to clear things up.

  50. Funny yet wise. I like this. Bravo!