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Beat Blank Page Syndrome: 10 Tricks to Get Your Writing Started

Beat Blank Page Syndrome: 10 Tricks to Get Your Writing Started
Beat Blank Page Syndrome

Anyone who writes, whether for school, for work, or for a living knows the scene: you sit there, a blank document open on your computer screen, that little cursor silently (accusingly?) blinking away, and your mind a complete blank. You know overall what you want to say, but how do you get there?

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Fortunately, there are ways to beat that blank page into submission. The trick isn’t to obsess over finding the perfect opening remarks, but to focus on getting words on the page — any words. More often than not, that means forgetting about the brilliant opening line and instead letting yourself write a bunch of crap you’ll never use. What you’ll find is that once that page is all mucked up, the “good stuff” will start to flow.

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Here are ten tricks that will help you get past your blank page paralysis and into the good stuff.

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  1. Start in the middle: Forget the introduction, and jump straight into whatever part you feel comfortable writing. Most of the time, the introduction is the weakest part of the finished product anyway, because we sharpen our thoughts as we write. Go back at the end and write an introduction. Or don’t — a lot of times, you’ll find that your non-introduction turns out to be a pretty good introduction.
  2. Write to someone you know: A lot of time we get all caught up in trying to write something for “everybody”. Find a voice by imagining you’re writing to someone you know — a friend, a family member, your 10th grade English teacher, the guy you hate in accounting — and writing in a way that they would understand. You can even start with “Dear Margaret, I’m writing to tell you about the amazing new product my company is introducing” or whatever — you’ll go back and delete that later.
  3. “Outline-expand-expand-done”: Forget writing straight through. Just write an outline. Then, go back and flesh it out a little, adding a sentence here, a paragraph there. Do that again, also focusing on how one part fits into the next. Repeat as necessary until you’re done.
  4. Write backwards: Skip to the end. What do you want your reader to take away from the piece? OK, write that. What’s the last thing they should understand in order to take that away? Skip to the top and write that. Keep working backwards through the document until you reach a logical beginning place, then write your introduction. Then go through front-to-back and clean it up.
  5. Tell a story: You don’t have to write a document that answers all life’s questions or applies universally. Narrow it down by writing a story. Who are the main players? What do.did they do? What is the conflict? Write “Once upon a time, there were…” and work into your topic. “Once upon a time, there was a young man who didn’t know how best to clean and polish his household silver…” Yeah, it’s stupid, but you’ll end up with a lot of language you can use — go through and cut out the story part and see what’s left.
  6. Free-write/free-talk: Write gibberish. Or get a recorder and talk gibberish. Just throw out words until something starts to make sense. Free associate — writing howto typing people writers… Keep writing whatever comes to mind — what you want for breakfast, how stupid free writing is, who you hate most — for a set period of time (5 minutes is good) or until the page is good and gunked up, then write a line relating to your topic. Write another. Go ahead and write a third. Feels ok, right? Write two more — hey, that’s starting to look like a paragraph! Keep going until you’re done, then go back and delete all the garbage.
  7. Use a pen and paper: Change things up! Step away from the keyboard, grab a pen and some paper (steal from the printer’s tray if you don’t have any blank paper around) and write longhand. Better yet, get yourself a nice fountain pen or some other fancy pen, and some really classy paper — something that makes you want to write just for the feel of ink flowing onto paper. Or use a crappy pencil, I don’t care. It’s not like I have stock in any pen companies or anything. The point is, shift yourself into another mindset and see if that doesn’t help you.
  8. Change location: Instead of shifting your medium, shift your location — head out to a coffeeshop, library, biker bar, anywhere new to shake things up. We’ll grow to associate places where frustration occurs with the frustration itself — change your place, change the frustration.
  9. Read: I read books on writing and they never fail to fire me up, but read anything. Get your head into “language” mode, seeing and thinking in print. Let your mind wander away from your obsessive worrying about your writing, and 9 times out of 10, the ideas will just suddenly click into place. Run back to your computer and write them down and see where that takes you.
  10. Set short goals: A lot of times we get hung up on how long it’s going to take us to finish — so hung up, we can’t even start. So do this: set a timer for 3 minutes, and see how much you can write in three minutes. Write gibberish if you must, but if you can, stay focused and know that you can quit in 3 minutes. Or try writing just 5 sentences. Give yourself trivially easy goals that you can quickly accomplish, and see what happens. A lot of times, you’ll catch a groove even in those couple minutes and be able to keep on going until you’re done.

Once you get over the initial hump of just getting started, you’ll usually find that the words just start coming. They might not be the best words or even vaguely right words, but they’re words — let them come, then hunt them down mercilessly when you revise and edit.

What about you? Any tips you have for people battling the blank page and losing?

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Last Updated on November 12, 2020

What Is Speed Reading and How to Successfully Learn It

What Is Speed Reading and How to Successfully Learn It

You have so many books waiting for your attention, but you just don’t have enough time! Don’t you wish you could read faster without compromising your knowledge intake? This is where a valuable learning technique comes to the rescue: speed reading.

Speed reading is the top skill to learn in 2020. Read on to find out all about this amazing technique!

What Is Speed Reading?

On average, an adult can read somewhere between 200 to 300 words per minute. With speed reading skills, you can read much fasteraround 1500 words per minute.[1] Yes, that sounds impossible, but it’s true.

In order to understand how this skill works, you first need to know how the reading process works inside a human’s brain.

The Reading Process

The first step is for the eyes to look at a word. This “fixation” on every word takes around 0.25 seconds.

Next, you start moving your eyes to the following word. It takes 0.1 seconds for the brain to move from one word to the next. This is called “saccade.”

Usually, you take in 4-5 words in your head, or a sentence, at once. After all the fixations and saccades, the brain goes over the entire phrase again in order to process the meaning. This takes around half a second.

All in all, this means average people read 200 to 300 words in a minute.

Speeding up the Process

The concept of speed reading is to speed up this process by at least 5 times. Since the saccade period cannot be shortened any further, speed reading emphasizes quicker fixations.

To accomplish this, scientists recommend that the reader skips the sub-vocalization: when the readers actually say the word in their mind, even when reading silently.

Basically, speed reading is the technique of only seeing the words instead of speaking them silently.

Do not confuse this with skimming. When a reader skims through a text, they skip the parts that their brain considers to be unnecessary. You may skip important information in this process, and skimming does not allow the brain to retain what has been read.

Why Speed Read?

Speed reading is not just quick, but it’s also effective. This skill saves a lot of of time without sacrificing information.

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Also, it has been proven to improve memory. The brain’s performance improves during speed reading, which allows the reader to remember more information than before[2].

Since speed reading stabilizes the brain, the information is processed faster and more efficiently.

Believe it or not, this technique leads to improved focus, too. As the brain receives a lot of information during speed reading, there is far less chance of distraction. The brain focuses solely on the job at hand.

Since the brain is, after all, a muscle, the process of speed reading acts as an exercise. Just like the rest of your muscles, your brain needs exercise to grow stronger, too.

A focused brain means improved logical thinking. As your brain gets used to receiving and organizing so much information so quickly, your thinking process will become faster. As soon as a problem is thrown at you, your brain will quickly put two and two together. You will be able to retrieve stored information, figure out correlations, and come up with new solutions, all within seconds!

Still not convinced? Read 10 Reasons Why You Should Learn Speed Reading

Greater Benefits

With a healthier brain, you can expect better things in other parts of your life, too. A boost in self-esteem is just one of them.

As you begin to understand information at a faster pace, you will also begin to figure out more opportunities all around you.

With the ability to deeply understand information in a shorter period of time, your confidence levels will quickly grow.

Moreover, all the aforementioned benefits will relieve you of stress. With all these advantages, your emotional well-being will be healthier than ever. You’ll feel less stress since your brain will learn to tackle problems efficiently. Speed reading will lead to a relaxed, tension-free lifestyle!

How to Learn to Speed Read

Speed reading is a superpower. Fortunately, unlike other superpowers, this one can be learned!

There are different techniques that can be used to master this skill. Opt for the one that best suits your learning style.

1. The Pointer Method

The person who is credited for popularizing speed reading, Evelyn Wood, came up with the pointer method. It is a simple technique in which the reader uses their index finger to slide across the text that they’re reading.

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As the finger moves, the brain coherently moves along with it. It is an effective technique to keep the eyes focused where the finger goes without causing any distraction.

Readers have a tendency to back-skip. The pointer method prevents this from happening, thereby saving at least half the reading time.

2. The Scanning Method

In this technique, the reader’s eyes move along one part of the page only. This can be the left or right side of the text but is usually the center since that is the most convenient.

Instead of pacing through the entire text from left to right, the vision shifts from top to bottom.

This method involves fixation on keywords, such as names, figures, or other specific terms. By doing so, the saccade time is minimized.

3. Perceptual Expansion

Generally, a reader focuses on one word at a time. This technique, on the other hand, encourages the brain to read a chunk of words together. In doing so, this method increases the reader’s peripheral vision.

Here’s the thing: even though the fixation time remains the same with perceptual expansion, the number of words that the eyes fixate on increases.

Basically, the brain receives 5 times more information within the same amount of time.

This technique is the hardest to master and takes the most time to learn. You’ll need help from speed reading tools in order to practice the perceptual expansion method.

However, once you master it, this technique will offer you the fastest reading pace with the maximum knowledge intake.

The Best Speed Reading Apps

The easiest tool to aid any process in any part of life these days is your smartphone.

You can use mobile applications to learn speed reading on the go. It has been proven that regularly practicing speed reading is the fastest way to learn this skill.[3]

Here are a few great options to look into:

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1. Reedy

If you own an Android smartphone, you can download Reedy to your mobile. Otherwise, get the Chrome extension on your laptop to enjoy speed reading with Reedy.

This app trains readers to read faster by displaying words one by one on the screen. Instead of having to go through lines or long texts, Reedy prepares the user to focus on one word at a time.

Although this isn’t an effective method to learn speed reading long texts, it is a great way to start.

2. ReadMe!

Whether you’re an android or iOS user, you can take advantage of the ReadMe! application. This app even comes with some e-book options to practice speed reading on.

Start by choosing your desired font size, color, layout, etc. Other than that, there are different reading modes for the user to choose from.

 

If you want to practice reading sentence by sentence or in short paragraphs, you can choose the focused reading mode.

The beeline reader mode changes the color of the text to guide the eye to read from the beginning to the end at a certain pace.

Lastly, there is the spritz mode in which the app focuses on chunks of words at once. This controls the reader’s peripheral vision. However, this mode is not fully available in the free version of the app.

3. Spreeder

Spreeder is available on both iOS and Android. However, users may also gain benefits from Spreeder’s website. This application lets the reader paste in any text that they would like to speed read.

Starting off at a rather low speed, the app flashes words one by one. Gradually, as the user becomes more comfortable, the speed increases.

Slowly, the user is trained to speed read without having to skip any words.

This app is different from the rest because it tracks the user’s reading improvements, recording the overall reading time and speed.

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The Controversy Surrounding Speed Reading

Truthfully, speed reading does sound too good to be true. It’s hard to believe that it is humanly possible to attain such a fast pace without compromising the quality of information you receive.

Perhaps as a result, there are people who do not trust the process of speed reading. They believe that when you read through a text at such a high speed, speed readers cannot develop good comprehension.

It is true that speed reading will be of no use if you do not understand the text you’re reading, no matter how quickly you did it.

Similarly, if you were to read slowly and still not retain or understand the information you read, that would be useless, too.

However, there are a few factors to consider here. When reading at a normal pace, there is enough time in between every step of the process for the brain to get distracted.

Conversely, speed reading leaves behind no time for the brain to focus on something else. It is unlike skimming. No part of the text is skipped, which means that the brain receives every single bit of information.

If you’re still not convinced, take a look at this video to learn about reading faster:

Conclusion

Keeping all of this in mind, speed reading cannot be labeled a hoax or a failure. Science has backed up this technique, and numerous readers have been using this skill to improve their learning ability and reading comprehension, even when reading for pleasure.

At the end of the day, it is your decision whether or not you want to trust this process.

However, if you decide to take advantage of the opportunities speed reading provides, you will find a world of possibilities opening up to you.

We live in a fast-paced world. Consuming information faster will help you keep up with that pace and find further success.

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Featured photo credit: Blaz Photo via unsplash.com

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