Blank page syndrome: the mental block on creative writing

Writing is difficult for everyone, even for a professional writer or if you are someone who really enjoys writing.

Posted by Ingrid Mosquera Gende

People nowadays don´t write as before, the whole idea of writing has changed. We have to find new ways to motivate our students towards writing. And it is not an easy task.

Most of our students find it hard to write, even in their mother tongue. The task acquires incredible proportions if we ask them to do it in English. Many of them will write in their mother tongue first and then translate it: a decision that always results in a disastrous Spanglish text.

Writing is difficult, since it involves many competences:

-Linguistic domain

-Cultural background



-Coherence and cohesion

-Punctuation knowledge

In addition to those items listed, there is one purposely omitted: writing also requires the willingness and the motivation to do it. Nowadays most students, I would even dare to say, most people, don´t like writing, at least we don´t write as we used to do. Writing has changed a lot in the last few decades, due to the internet, new technologies and, most of all, due to social media. And that is what we are going to deal with here: how can we motivate our students towards creative writing.

The first step would be to avoid commonplace activities: postcards, complaint or job application letters and CV development. Our students, and some of us, are really fed up with them. As a teacher, you should know that one is enough. It is not that they are not creative, it is that writing letters year after year, as well as postcards from London or China, exhausts their ideas. We need to add sparkle to their imagination. Because imagination is in there, somewhere. It could be in their hearts or possibly in their minds, However, I won't debate that issue right now.

Of course we could give them a blank page and just tell them to write about anything they want. It could work for some of them, those who already LOVE writing. Sometimes we have some of those. But it won´t work for the majority.

Firstly, remember that, for writing, reading is important. Having a text as a base could give them clues about syntax, grammar, vocabulary, and of course, a theme to write about. We could even read a text together and debate it a little bit, work on it, before actually asking them to write anything at all. And we have to give them different possibilities. Students can:

  • Propose a different ending or say what will happens once the story ends.
  • Imagine what has happened before the text.
  • Talk about one of the characters, the one they like, about his or her childhood or about his or her life before or after the story
  • Change the genre of the protagonist
  • Situate the story in Mars or in another context, whether it is imaginary or real.
  • Translate the story into a Whatsapp conversation.
  • Transform the characters into animals
  • Present it as a Fairy Tale for children or the other way around, create an adult story out of a children's one.
  • Create a story from a song or a poetry.

And so on.

However, probably, that won´t be enough for them:

  • There will likely be a need of a previous brainstorming activity, in order to do a warm up to get ideas flowing.
  • We could give them a first sentence of even a paragraph or the middle of it.
  • We could prepare a competition. We could publish their creations in a blog.
  • Students could read their stories aloud or record them in a video or a podcast.
  • Be open about the extension. That will help to take into consideration different levels of knowledge. Not all of them need to write the same number of words.
  • Let them have a sense of control and decision about the theme and the type of writing.
  • Perhaps they prefer to write a song or a poem.
  • Let them imagine a story about their favourite videogame protagonist, their favourite singer´s or actor´s daily life or about what they would do if they won the lottery.

Give them freedom and they will surprise you.

A great way to start, less demanding and very motivating, could be group writing. When students work together they share ideas, they interrupt each other, their imagination is exponentially multiplied. Make them work in groups before making them work in pairs or alone. They will correct each other, they will help and complement each other. Perhaps one is more imaginative than another, but perhaps the other has better English when writing: one is going to learn from the other.

Remember that creative writing should be gradual and a second step. Firstly, it could be easier to talk about something that happened to them or something they saw in a newspaper. They could also describe a family member, a place or a friend, as well as retelling a film or a series, among many other options.

Creative writing is a step forward. Competences involved are multiplied, as well as the benefits we can get from it.

And don't forget that it is important to read between the lines, because, at the end, although fictional, they are giving away a part of themselves. Be ready to praise it, to understand It and, mainly, to interpret it to get a better knowledge of your students.

And they will live happily ever after.

Ingrid Mosquera, PhD.

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