Tabula Rasa

Sometimes when you need to start writing a report, the most fearsome thing to behold is the blank page, the empty slate, “tabula rasa.” It can kick off a bout of writer’s block for which the only cure is to type something – anything – just so your screen starts to fill up with words that awaken your writing self and get you out from under that blanket of white blankness.

There are lots of tips and tricks for how to get started. Here are a few of them.

1) Don’t start at the beginning. You’ll probably do an executive summary for the beginning after you write the rest of it. Even if you don’t plan to have an executive summary, after writing the rest you will know how best to start it to pique a reader’s interest. Start in the middle with something you know best or find the most interesting. Then you will be able to find the words more easily, and your energy and enthusiasm about the subject will propel you deep into the writing quickly.

2) Create a writing ritual that you follow each time you write. Go get a tall, caramel macchiato with whip cream and a blueberry scone each time you start a new report. Put the iPod earbuds in and listen to Mozart or the William Tell Overture, or whatever music gets you writing. Or my favorite: open a box of Milk Duds or Whoppers or chocolate-covered raisins or peanuts. Then allow yourself to eat one after every paragraph you write.

3) Force yourself to write down something, anything. What you plan to do when you get home, a shopping list, a “bucket list” of things to accomplish before you die, or a letter to your mom will do; just get those fingers typing. Turn off your internal spell-checker and grammar editor and just get some words on the page. Do a really messy “brain dump” and get everything out of your head and onto the screen. You can come back later and fix everything – or send it to me to fix for you. Just remember to remove the shopping list from the beginning.

4) And finally, there is the online Gobbledygook Generator:

 http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/examples/gobbledygook-generator.html
This website asks: “Have you ever wanted to use meaningless, empty phrases that make it look like you know what you are talking about?” In other words, it shows you how to speak like a consultant.

Examples:

At base level, this just comes down to knowledge-based policy processing.”

“We need to cascade memos about our remote reciprocal flexibility.”

While Grammar Geeks normally don’t condone writing such obtuse prose, it’s actually pretty funny to see some of the jargon this nifty little app gins up, and it just might help you get something on the page so you can get over that hump of writer’s block and on the road to actually writing.

If you have a favorite ritual or trick to conquer writer’s block, please send it to me so I can share it with the other members of the Peanut Gallery.

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