Miguel Panao | Professor and Author

Finding ways to improve scientific writing and academic productivity.

Lessons from a blank page experience

When you set yourself to write something, a blank page can intimidate and trigger an unexpected personal crisis. However, what can we learn from experiencing the emptiness of blank pages, supposed to be filled with our thoughts, ideas, and knowledge?

blank page screen

One day I spent almost an hour staring at a blank screen. My purpose was to write a blog post and fulfill my 500 words for the day, but nothing came to mind. When this happens, the advice most experts give is to write whatever comes to mind to overcome writer’s block. However, what I wrote showed me the importance of preparation.

Preparation is crucial if you want to succeed in whatever you’re doing. When I was writing the post, my method was to mind-map the topic, then produce an outline from the mind-map and writing flows. This flow happened every time and proved to be efficient. There are other methods to prepare you for other things like lab experiments, a presentation or speech, a lecture, etc.

What happens when you fail to prepare? My experience made me enter a spiral of negativity which led me to self-doubt, asking the wrong questions and a personal crisis about what I was doing in this blog.

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever felt the embarrassment to yourself and other of not having prepared what you want to do? These are 3 lessons I learned from an unprepared blank page experience.

 

1. Overcome self-doubt

When you block in your writing or while developing an idea, you may enter a path of doubting yourself instead of facing the hard questions. Focus on the task instead of focusing on you.

 

2. Asking the right questions

When you begin self-doubting, you ask the wrong questions. Wrongs questions are about your ability to move forward in the task at hand. Wrong questions are “why nobody comments on my blog?”, “Is it worthy to invest my time into something nobody reads?”

After almost an hour staring at a blank page in my Macbook, I wonder about the absence of interaction with readers on my blog, wrote about them and eventually publish. However, afterward, regret came because you may write disruptive posts, but not depressive ones, seeming to come from nowhere but your self-doubt.

 

3. Crisis as opportunities

The third lesson is to cease crisis as opportunities to improve what you do. I deleted my depressive post complaining about the absence of comments on my blog, the decline in page views and visitors, possibly indicating a lack of interest in my writing. While I shared this experience with a friend of mine, he suggested, “why don’t write about the lessons you learn?” And, in that suggestion, I saw an opportunity.


In every project involving writing, be it a blog post, an academic paper, a project report, strive for a proper preparation of your writing.

Question: have you ever experienced the depressive effect of staring at a blank page and not knowing what to write? What did you felt and how did you overcome it?

About Miguel Panao

I am a Professor at the University of Coimbra in Mechanical Engineering. I am also author of books in the fields of environmental ethics and Science and Religion. From the several research projects, this site is personal and dedicated to the search for the best approaches, tools, techniques to improve scientific productivity.

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