Why the First Step to Writing a Paper Should be Not Writing the Paper

A blank page is daunting. Trust me, I know. Starting this blog post was almost as intimidating as making a speech in front of a thousand important people (except worse because there is no comfort in picturing a blank page in its underwear). We’ve all been there before, right? We receive an assignment that may or may not be interesting, we sit down in front of our computers to write it, and boom—we spend the first three hours of our writing process just wondering where to start. The problem, however, is not necessarily that the prompt is lackluster or that the writer lacks ability. Oh no, the problem is far more severe than that: it’s a lack of inspiration.

Writing without inspiration is like teaching a fish to climb a tree: difficult, and it probably won’t go well. So, what can we do to tackle the intimidation of a blank page and remedy this mental road block? Walk away. You heard me. Put away the assignment, close the computer, and just take a moment to reflect on what exactly you want to write and why you are writing it. By giving yourself the time and space to consider the what and why, you are allowing yourself to find a purpose in your writing—even if that purpose is something as simple as a getting a good grade.

“Something magical happens when you return to your blank page: you are immersed in the topic, full of directions to go, and suddenly the page doesn’t seem so daunting.”

Think about what you wish to accomplish through an essay or other assignment. If the topic is challenging, think about ways you can answer questions you may have about the text or prompt through your research and writing. Most of all, don’t get bored of a prompt quickly and settle for a response that is void of your voice or opinion. Passionless writing doesn’t feel good, and it reflects a lot more obviously than you would expect.

One of the biggest mistakes we make is that we tend to write our thesis sentences too soon in our process. Give yourself the luxury of spending time away from the prompt before you commit to a topic. Don’t force ideas; let them come naturally. After all, nothing is worse than trying to make an idea work in an essay and discovering that it only extends so far. Rather than settling, focus on a topic that you are passionate about, or that you think you would be able to talk about extensively. Then, outline and research the topic accordingly. Choosing topics of genuine interest allows you to feel connected to your work, while also allowing you to research new opinions or angles that you have not considered before.


Discover inspiration through other art: listen to your favorite music, watch a mind-blowing documentary, or go to a museum. Take what piques your interest in these art forms and incorporate it into your own writing. By taking the time to weigh your options and develop a personal stance, you are welcoming a whole new world of ideas and opinions. More importantly, something magical happens when you return to your blank page: you are immersed in the topic, full of directions to go, and suddenly the page doesn’t seem so daunting.

In the end, you will compose an essay that you are proud of; and all it took was a little time away.


KC Esper

KC Esper is a senior Professional Writing Major at JCU. This is her third year working in the Writing Center.


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