Blank Pages and Infinite Loops

The problem with attempting to write a post daily is the occasional battle with writer's blocks and avoiding excessive repetition. Neither are particularly enjoyable and both can give a person a reason to avoid writing anything at all. In my case there is typically some form of writer's block in he way when approaching a difficult subject, be it various personal failings or frequent thought patterns. Despite the challenge, though, I'll typically open a writing application and stare at a blinking cursor for as long as it takes for something to formulate. This often results in several awful posts being started and abandoned before a halfway mediocre one takes shape, but it's the habit that I’m trying to maintain more than anything else. By dedicating a time to write, I set aside that block of time during the day to sit down and structure an idea.

What should happen when the block of time has been exceeded and nothing has been written, though?

On an early episode of the Back to Work podcast, Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann were talking about overcoming challenges. At some point, Merlin said "Sometimes the only way out of a problem is through it", which was quickly simplified by Dan who repeated "The only way out is through". The six-word mantra was repeated in a couple of episodes afterwards before being forgotten, but it's something I've held onto as it best describes the only viable, long-term means to overcome a challenge. This is how I approach problems in my personal life. This is how I approach problems at work. This is how I approach creative droughts that seem to stretch on for months at a time.

So when an entire block of time that was dedicated to writing has instead been consumed by staring at a blinking cursor, the clock gets reset. If something is important enough, we make the time. For me, organising an idea — even a poorly formed one — is incredibly important. A large number of the blog posts I write will never see publication in any public sense, but the act of writing these pieces allows me to examine a question or idea with a higher degree of granularity. Regardless of how quickly a person might type, writing is a slower process that cannot happen at the speed of thought. We can examine an idea as it's written to see if it makes sense, and I like this. A lot.

This is why I will make the time to put something out every day, no matter how long it might take to formulate. This post here is the culmination of almost 4 hours of watching a cursor blink. Two earlier posts were abandoned in favour of this one. Was it a good use of time? I believe it was … despite the mediocrity of these words.