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Getting Past Blank: Fueling Up and Building Momentum

When it comes to getting things done creatively, the blank page has always daunted me. I’ve come to embrace process primarily as a way of overcoming the inertia of the blank page and building momentum. While the concepts of inertia and momentum are related to objects with mass, I think they can just as easily be applied to ideas.

I’ve learned that my job is to just sit down and start making the clackity noise. If I make the clackity noise long enough every day, the “writing” seems to take care of itself.

Merlin Mann

There is an initial resistance to change, whether that’s an idea or the state of its expression. That blank canvas, whether it’s a physical notebook, a white Photoshop file, or an empty text file, represents all of the possibilities for an idea. Every decision, no matter how minor, takes that idea down a specific path and away from its pristine unformed perfection. And so, as I sit there and stare at the blank page, there is a weight to that first line or letter.

I’ve found the best way to overcome that inertia is to simply start. Do something. Anything. Here are some of the somethings I do to overcome my blank pages.

  • Try different tools than you normally use. If you code, try sketching. If you sketch, try writing. Try new software, new processes, and new techniques.
  • Get out of your own head. Talk with users, observe them where they are. Facilitate a design studio. Take a walk or do something completely unrelated that leaves your brain free to wander.
  • Write down the ending. What needs to happen to get there?
  • Why do you care about solving this problem? Express it, and let your passion guide you. Don’t care? Maybe you shouldn’t be solving it, or maybe you should get to know some of the people who do want it solved.
  • Look at inspirational sites (like Dribbble) and pattern sites (like PatternTap) to see what others might be doing in the same space. Don’t blatantly copy, but see where you can combine or alter existing ideas to create something new.
  • Explore and collect. Watch powerful movies. Play beautiful games. Read thought-provoking books. Go to a local museum and scrutinize the exhibits. Then reflect on what makes these things work (or not).
  • Impose creative constraints. What can you get done in 10 minutes to express your idea? What can you do in a single mobile screen to solve your problem?
  • Keep a journal or notepad for ideas. Collect things that inspire you, whether through digital tools like Pinterest or Tumblr or physical objects.
  • Create a runway and give yourself space and time to build momentum. Nothing kills momentum faster than meetings and distractions.
  • Just start. Eventually you just need to make the clackity noise.

These are a few of the ways I fuel my momentum and overcome my blank page inertia. What are yours? Send me an email, and I’ll add yours as well.

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