It’s the beginning of midterms week, so we’ll pretty much all be writing lots and lots of papers. And as many of us can attest to, the first blank page is every writer’s nightmare. It taunts you, pristine and defiant, as if it’s saying “What could you possibly have to say that’s worthy of despoiling me?” And that is a hard question to answer. I can’t give you the answer because I don’t know what you’re writing. Is it something that is important to you, or just something that is important to your grade? Sadly, those things don’t coincide all that often.
Here are a few tips that I’ve had to use in order to take that first, intimidating step.
1. Prepare a playlist
Now, I know not everyone is as addicted to music as I am, but I’m still a pretty firm believer that the right music can make almost anything seem more doable. So, as part of your preparation for tackling a paper, make a playlist. You get bonus points for tailoring it to fit your mood or you subject matter. I also love to keep a back-up playlist of really hype, bass heavy tracks that get me psyched for even the driest and dullest of tasks
2. Keep everything you’ll need beside you
I know that one of the ways I put off dealing with that first page, and then paper as a whole, is by distracting myself with everything from snacks to the right resources, to my iPod. So, before you even start, prepare your surroundings. Get the snacks you’ll want, a bottle of water, your music, and whatever texts you’ll need, and have them on hand. That way, you have no excuse but to look that blank page in the eye and get down to business.
3. Read something similar
If what you’re lacking is inspiration, or, like me, you’re a big ball of whimpering insecurity, a good way to deal with all the intimidation of starting a paper is by reading other papers. If your professor has not provided you with a sample/example paper, just Google some. While it might be helpful to look up one on a similar subject, keep in mind that you don’t want to plagiarize, whether intentionally or not. But still, looking at other examples is a good way to help you figure out what you want to try to emulate or what you definitely don’t want to do.
4. Start small
And I mean real small. I usually start off a particularly tough paper or paragraph by typing in “Hello!” There. The page is no longer blank. It is no longer a defiant test of my worth as a writer, it is simply a stranger that I will be getting to know. I know that sounds a little silly, but honestly, as a person who not only writes weekly articles but also is an English major with a creative writing concentration, I have needed this little tip just to survive sometimes. You don’t have to use “Hello!” but you can put in whatever phrase that will help you see the page as no longer blank and intimidating, but friendly or at least doable in some way.
5. Don’t feel pressured to be linear
Finally, don’t get caught up in putting everything down exactly right all in one go. If there is a part of the paper that you are excited about, or just more knowledgeable about, start there. Heck, you can even start with your conclusion if you want! Just put down whatever is at the forefront of your brain and go from there. You can write your entire paper in random paragraphs and then piece it together later into a masterpiece. So don’t be afraid to think outside of perfect academic order. Just start with what comes to you, and even if you end up deleting it later as the rest of your paper fleshes out, at least you conquered that blank first page.