“A white blank page… and a swelling rage… rage”. Sometimes all you need is a quote. This one is from a song, but it could really be anything. This is basically how I keep white blank pages at bay: keeping notes.
It doesn’t really matter where, I find it just as satisfying to find an old document in a long-forgotten folder in my laptop or in whatever note-taking app I use in my phone. Keeping notes has actually been really useful during my PhD. It was a piece of advice that kept creeping up whenever I read about or attended courses on time management, skills to survive your PhD, and all the other similar titles for them. And I have started to appreciate it now that I have to write up. Having notes on methods, talks, papers, and even Catalogue Numbers on everything I ordered is proving tremendously helpful at the writing stage. Not only is writing the methods much easier, but I have pretty much always been able to refer my colleagues to whatever piece of equipment I happened to purchase many months (or years!) ago.
Every now and then I keep finding myself re-reading whatever I just wrote, but I tell myself that this is exactly why I’m doing this exercise: just noticing and acknowledging any patterns or habits I’ve fallen into. Coming back to the train of thought, keeping notes on everything, from meetings to previous drafts, makes that white blank page quite obsolete. I don’t have to face a blank page anymore. I just need to open an old document, or compile a few notes here and there, or even just write that funny quote from a song I just listened, and there I go. Stringing words after those already on the page is easier than facing the endless possibilities of a blank page. That doesn’t mean I’ll keep any of those notes, or quotes, or catalogue numbers. Maybe they are outdated, or wrong, or don’t really make much sense with what I end up writing. But it helped me start and that’s enough. So keeping the scraps is actually helpful to the future me. Same for posters, and talks, and slides. Recycling content to just keep the wheel of creativity running to iterate through improving versions gets rid of the white blank page anxiety.
This post is part of a series of exercises that will accompany me during thesis writing. You can find them all in the “Archive of first drafts“. The only goal is to write anything in the span of 10 minutes, with minimal planning and editing. If you read this at all, say hi, writing can be lonely. If you have any tips, experiences, or memories that you feel like sharing or may help fellow writers, drop a comment below or DM me, you never know who can benefit from it.