Staring at a blank page terrifies me. I’m only comfortable writing about things I can place in a larger context, and understand how they relate to everything else. At the same time, I get to understand new concepts mostly through writing and talking with other people. I often have a vague feeling that I know how something works, but don’t usually know if my ideas make any sense until I bounce them off others.
This poses a challenge when I want to tackle a new and unfamiliar topic. I don’t know if I’m going anywhere until I write it all down, but I can’t write it all down without seeing the big picture. The more fragments of the big picture are floating in my head, the more overwhelmed I get trying to get a grasp of the whole.
To get past this block, I’ve recently started experimenting with an application called Scapple, designed to take visual notes. Just being able to put a few notes in random places is a huge relief. Instead of trying to describe the whole big picture in one single piece of text, I can write loose thoughts here and there and see what emerges.
But again, when I first opened this app, it welcomed me with a huge empty page. For the first week I’ve only put a few notes on the board, unsure what to do next.
Then it struck me. Instead of trying to write about things I don’t know yet, I should start with the stuff I know, then see where the gaps are and how I can fill them in. I opened my most recent blog post, summarized it, noted all the things this brought to my mind, then clicked on all the links in that post and repeated the process for them.
By following links in just that single post, and links in the links, and so on, I ended up with a tangled map of ideas, thoughts, existing blog posts, and possible topics for future ones. I’m yet to repeat the same process for other posts on my blog.
Never again I’m going to complain that I have nothing to write about.