Quick Tip #21: Getting the Words Out

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Do you ever feel like Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail when you sit down to write? That blank page is staring back at you – how on earth are you going to say what you need to say? How will you ever get started?


A student was asking me this exact question the other day (just without the Tom Hanks reference).  Here are three things I do when I get stuck:

  • Set a timer and start some targeted freewriting.

Our tutor Jack came up with the term “targeted freewriting” in this post. But I’m a big fan of the same idea in my own writing.  When I have a project to work on, I set a kitchen timer (the ticking clock kind) and just start writing down anything that comes to mind about the topic.  The only rule I have is that I can’t stop writing — my goal is to write as much as I can so I have more to edit from later! Once that timer is done (I usually pick between 10 and 20 minutes depending on the length of the project I’m working on), I can start highlighting some points that might end up in the final project.  The rest can be deleted or moved to another page so I can consult them later if I get stuck again.

  • Prewriting and “Prethinking” – jot down some notes.

Similar to the idea above, I sometimes avoid spending any time with that blank page.  How? I’m a big fan of post-it notes and notebooks.  I carry them with me everywhere (I keep them in my purse and my school bag). Whenever I get an idea about an ongoing project, I jot it down.  When I feel like I have enough notes (and still have given myself plenty of time to work on the project), I pull out all my ideas and rearrange them on my desk until I have a bit of an outline.  I quickly type them into a Word document – and voila! – that blank page doesn’t have time to taunt me!

  • Write the sections you know.  

For nearly every paper I’ve ever written, there’s at least one section that I know exactly what I’m going to cover.  Even if it’s just a paragraph of background information, I start writing my project there.  That way, I feel confident that I can finish this project because I know I have some clear ideas!


How do you avoid that scary blank page?  Leave a comment below!



One comment

  1. Great strategies! I esp like the ‘write the section’ that you already know. This not only helps with that blank page but is also a terrific confidence booster–which can be 90% of the ‘battle’ !

    Liked by 1 person

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