How Do You Solve the Blank Page Problem?

Have you ever experienced what I call the blank page problem? When you start working on a project by opening a new document, then stare it without taking action.

Yes? Me too! For example, a dozen pristine canvases are in my apartment waiting for my creativity to magically appear on them.

I want to start creating, but I’m not making progress. Why not? And how can I change that?

This problem exists with business work too. We have ideas for all sorts of things that we feel we should be doing but never actually make progress on.

The Blank Page Problem is a Lack of Structure

The problem is that so much unconstrained potential overwhelms and paralyzes us. Consider what happens if you ask a child to choose one play option out of all the possible play options ever? I don’t have children but I imagine it might not be a pretty experience.

We crave a structure we understand within which we can work. Or which we can break through in rebel fashion. We need constraints to work our creative and human magic. Resistance enables us to take action. We need paths we can follow until we want to wander off them. For me, the concept of a studio is one of my favorite ways to solve the blank page problem. It’s the grown-up version of playing with a cardboard box.

We Need to Design Structure Using the Concept of a Studio

One way to think about the concept of a studio is to think about a cardboard box. You know, the one you always want to think outside of for fantastic, innovative ideas. That one.

What happens If you give a child a cardboard box? The box transforms into whatever that child wants it to be at that moment to support playing. The shape and size of the box create the structure needed to react and empowers the child to start playing.

Adults need that structure too. We need the box to create within it or think outside of it. Our boxes become our studios. And our studios are where the play happens. And we need to design our studios.

A studio is a place to create. It has head space and white space. It feels safe, open, clear, simple, messy, and complex. Ideas, materials, and people collide. A studio is comfortable and playful. It is lived-in and unpolished. An invitation to cultivate daring and vulnerability. It is engaging and calm and contrasting. A space without judgment and full of courage. It is a place filled with the learnings we mistake for failures. It is a quiet place to think and feel and express and expand.

A studio is a space, a place, a constraint, a structure, an openness, a collision, a visual, a state change, and a mindset.

We design the studios we work in. If we don’t, we default to a box that is uncomfortable fit, that doesn’t meet our needs, and may prevent us from making progress. We give ourselves a box to play with so we don’t default to the blank page.

How Do We Design Our Studio?

We’ve seen how this works. We’ve used it in school and seen it in the self-help section of the bookstore. We pick prompts to start writing. Or we chose a subject to start painting. We get an assignment from a boss or teacher to create a report. A parent gives us the cardboard box and then we play with it.

But sometimes we need to change or add in our own structure to make progress on our blank page. We need help understanding the problem and our needs so we can design the studio that supports our goals.

 Artist Blank Page

My Process:

Listening & Noticing | Seeking Understanding

What is the blank page I’m looking at?

Take my dozen of pristine canvases.

  • I have the supplies to paint.
  • I can make the time.
  • And I keep noticing that I want to paint because the desire keeps coming up over and over in my mind.
  • I keep talking about it.
  • So, what is going on? Why are they still pristine?

Questioning | Deepening Understanding

This part of the process is where we get vulnerable and daring and a little uncomfortable. I’m digging into assumptions to deepen my understanding of the actual problem.

  • What do I want from painting my canvases? A world-renowned show at the Louvre? Nope.
  • Selling them on Etsy? Also no.
  • A lovely picture of a flower? Sure, but that doesn’t resonate as my main desire.
  • The meditative act of painting and being creative? Hmm… that one resonates well.
  • Anything else? Yes, actually, now that you ask. I want the painting experience to include a bit of companionship or sociableness.

Synthesizing & Clarity | Processing and Focusing Understanding

What did I learn? What themes popped up?

  • I know now that it isn’t the resulting painting that is important to me. It is the experience of painting that is important.

Showing & Reflecting | Explicitly visualizing understanding and cultivating perspective

So what?

  • I need to design my painting experience with a focus on the act of painting. And invite people to share it with me.

Coaching & Guiding | Inspiring and Structuring Transformation from Understanding

Action happens next. I understand my blank page problem. I know the underlying needs informing a clear design structure of my studio. Now I can move forward and make progress. Paint night anyone?

Now What?

This process helps build a structured studio. It helps account for our imperfectness as humans. Humans are complicated and messy and challenging. We need to account for our humanity in how we design our studios. Powerful growth and transformation happen with the collision of humans. That is where our lives happen.

Our work and life are full of blank page problems. We grow out of the cardboard boxes given to us.  We move beyond the ‘established’ rules and roles in work and school and life. So, we need to make new ones designed to support our goals and our progress forward.

What is a blank page you are facing? How might you design a studio to help solve your problem? 

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