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5 Tools to Overcome The Blank Page Syndrome

by Chloe Lee |

Whether we are students trying to complete an assignment, an employee trying to finish off your article drafts at work, or an author aiming to publish, we all tend to experience the blank page syndrome. Similar to experiencing a writers' block, it is experiencing a lack of inspiration or idea to complete a written piece. Most, if not all of us, have experiences with this syndrome where we felt stuck and simply have no clue how to carry on, or how to improve our work. Fret not, here are some tools you can use to overcome the blank page syndrome!

1. Kaufman's 4 stages of creativity:

The four stages are preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification.

Firstly, it is important to do sufficient research on your respective topics. For example, when I was pursuing my Masters, I knew I wanted my research to revolve around the political climate in Malaysia, so I spent hours reading about different variables I can include and had a document ready to insert any and everything I felt piqued my interest. Even if you are doing a write up on a more casual topic, it is important for you to have a proper grasp on it and to acquire the knowledge you need to be an expert (or try to be) in the area, and read up on different perspectives to obtain a more holistic comprehension.

Pro tip: at this stage, it would be helpful to be organized and label your work properly, if not you’ll end up like me and have documents named “Research 1”, “More Research”, “Even More Research”, “Research 3” – and it wasn’t easy to sort through these piles of words.

Once you have done all your homework, you can take a rest. Taking a break might be a very foreign concept to us when our society constantly pushes us to do more. However, the incubation stage is crucial in allowing our brain to do its magic and to process all the information we have fed it. Sometimes I just sleep on it and wake up with a fresh mindset, I then find myself writing a lot more smoothly and producing better qualities than the night before. Unless your work is time-sensitive, allow yourself to take a break every once in a while! Before you know it, you will hit the “Eureka!” moment – also known as the illumination stage.

Once you’ve hit the jackpot, make sure to also verify your ideas or fact-check your information and to critically think through your topic once again.

2. Exercise

I know, I know, I am rolling my eyes at the mention of this as well. However, as much as I dislike getting out of my chair to go for a run, it is found that exercise not only keeps our bodies healthy but keeps our brains alert as well. It is known that exercising releases endorphins, which are hormones that trigger a positive feeling in the body. It also allows you to prioritize better and concentrate on the task at hand. When you’re jogging or at the gym, you are in a different environment from your writing desk, and this naturally exposes you to stimuli that might spark the next best idea. Coming in contact with a variety of visual, verbal, or audible cues can serve as useful inspiration, so never underestimate the power of a 5-minute walk in the local park.

3. The MECE Map

The MECE framework is very popular amongst consultants and can be a bit technical, but it's just a mind map on steroids. MECE stands for Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive, and it's a structure that helps you boil your topic down into smaller areas of focus or categories.

Mutually Exclusive: it reduces any overlaps by being exclusive

Collectively Exhaustive: considers every single option through categories

For example, imagine experimenting with individuals born from 1996 to 2020 and you divide them into two groups of people:

a) people born from 1996-2000; and

b) people born from 2001-2020

As such, there are no overlaps between these two groups and everyone in your experiment falls within this age group, thus meeting the MECE framework.

However, if you divided it in this way:

  1. people born from 1996 to 2005 and

  2. people born from 2000 to 2010

This is not MECE because there is an overlap between 2000 and 2005, and it is not exhaustive because those born from 2011 and 2020 are missing from the equation.

I once applied the MECE Map to trying to understand our education system and to identify problem areas and how we can improve our quality of education. Some of the categories I had were “teachers”, “students” and “infrastructure”. These can be further broken down to understand root causes, such as low wages, low motivation, or lack of proper safety procedures that all contribute to issues faced in schools. This exercise picks your brains but can be a useful tool in helping you view your subject at bite-size pieces and to digest information easier and to tackle your written work through various aspects of your topic.

4. The Role-Playing model by Belbin and De Bono

Here is a creative framework that allows you to switch from your point of view to someone else’s. Ideally, this should be done in a group setting, however, if you are working on a solo project, you can adapt this framework and apply it to yourself, too. The idea is to think of individuals who have different roles and therefore wear specific “hats”, they are:

  • White hat: analytical, objective, factual

  • Red hat: emotional, subjective feelings, perceptions and opinions

  • Black: critical thinking, risk assessment, identifying problems

  • Yellow: optimistic, speculative best-case-scenario

  • Green: creative, associative thinking, brainstorm, constructive

  • Blue: structured, process overview, sees the bigger picture 

When it comes to group work, the groupthink phenomenon can happen unconsciously and people come to a consensus without putting much thought into the topic. However, it is important to practice wearing these hats to bring more perspectives or dimensions into your writings. Not only does your written work have to be factually correct, but it should also have a certain emotional appeal - the right balance of optimism but also addresses the issues at hand. These hats, therefore, act as a good tool to help you view your topic with various lenses and to produce content that would appeal to audiences of all types.

5. Try freeflow writing 

Freeflow writing is writing anything and everything that comes to mind! It is a simple method to get your brain juices flowing and to release your inner verbal dancer and to simply write away. You can do this by establishing a set time, e.g. 15 minutes - no limits on the topic, no corrections needed, no concerns on what is correct or incorrect: just writing. Write faster than you can think for 15 minutes and see what fun ideas come to mind! This exercise is also incredibly helpful to just clear your mind or to release any anxiety experienced throughout this writing process.

Inspiration is everywhere, and these tools can be used to extract inspiration from our environments and to convert them into good ideas for our written pieces. Everyone feels stuck every once in a while, but with practice, patience, and practical tools at hand, you are sure to complete your work in no time.

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