What scares you? Spiders? Bats? Clowns (ugh)? As an artist, the thing that instills the most fear and dread in me is… a blank piece of paper.
It’s one thing when I know exactly what I want (or need) to draw. But just sitting down to sketch quickly becomes a nightmare. What do I draw? How about…no, I don’t think I could do that well enough. Well, what about…no, that’s too complicated. And the struggle continues until finally, I close the sketchbook and go play Call of Duty.
This fear of the blank page has plagued me for years, and has also become a nuisance to my recent fiction writing attempts, and even my coding. I’d always called this “The Blank Page Syndrome”, and wondered if I was in the minority. Turns out, I’m not. A quick Google search returned over 100,000 pages with that term, which I actually thought I’d made up. It often is used generically to refer to “writer’s block”, but affects a lot of artists as well.
I’d been giving this a lot of thought lately, and then this past October, I attended CSS Dev Conference in Colorado. The opening keynote by Zoe Gillenwater seemed to have been written specifically with me in mind. Her talk explored the idea that a lot of times, we compare ourselves too much to what others have done, and let that hold us back from doing our own thing. We think we could never reach that level, or that everything worth writing (or drawing) has been done before, so why should I add my two cents?
Hearing that keynote made me realize that I’m not alone in these feelings, and I should explore it further. Coincidentally, I was asked by some folks at Big Nerd Ranch if I’d do an upcoming Tech Talk, which could cover any topic I wanted. Boom. I took the opportunity to craft a quick talk about Blank Page Syndrome and ways of coping with it.
I say “coping” with it, not “solving” it. For many of us neurotic creative types, I’m not sure “solving” it is even an attainable goal. But I do feel that with some motivation, sprinkled with a bit of peer pressure, we can push through our issues and fears and keep on making things.
Instead of droning on and on in this post, below is the video from my Tech Talk, as well as the accompanying slides. Hopefully this will provide some tricks to overcoming the blank page barrier and getting back to making cool stuff.