Michael Feuer's columns

What do a blank piece of paper and a roller coaster have in common?

They can both invoke thrills, chills and terror

From the most senior executive to the lowest level rookie, staring at a blank piece of paper is enough to ignite a sense of fear and at times even outright terror. Just the thought of having to populate that sheet of parchment (or, in today’s world, computer screen) with substantive thoughts by which you’ll be judged can give the most prolific creator pause.

Some call this common malady writer’s block, but it’s actually thinker’s block, applicable not only to words but to anything that requires originality, be it mathematical equations, a speech or the great American novel.

Typically, this affliction is triggered by a lack of focus and preparation. Good and great ideas don’t strike like lightning out of the blue, but instead begin to germinate after the sometimes painful process of thinking.

Here are a few tips that can help ameliorate the anxiety, particularly when you’re up against a deadline. First, you need the discipline to schedule your percolating time and then stick to it.

Instead of waiting to the last minute and then pulling a week of intermittent all-nighters to cobble something unremarkable together, pick a period of time well in advance of your required completion date, clear your calendar and approach the task with a sense of inspiration and enthusiasm for what you’re about to produce. Setting the bar a few rungs higher usually brings out the best in most of us.

Well before that first day of inspiration, however, be sure to do your homework. Thinker’s block is precipitated many times by a lack of organizing your facts and figures in a readily accessible format. Grasping for relevant data as you compose your work can result in errors or fuzzy logic.

Initially, don’t worry too much about having that killer opening thought, but instead about putting something of substance down on paper. Creating is much like painting a room. Just get broad strokes of the right color on the wall and then start the detail work.

As you progress, you’ll begin to feel better about the undertaking. But instead of wrapping the effort up in a few sittings, take a protracted timeout as measured in days or even weeks if your timeline permits. During this intermission you’ll subconsciously think about how to improve your finished product.

At the appointed time, resume your efforts — you’ll be ready to do a deep-dive and complete the fine-tuning process. When you’re properly prepared, the undertaking is much like opening a hot water faucet. Once the flow begins, it accelerates and the temperature quickly rises.

The deliberative process can invoke second thoughts, which is a good thing, as it forces one to explore alternatives that can lead to new discovery and dramatically improve the fruits of your efforts.

Thinking is much like riding a roller coaster, producing a combination of thrills and chills laced with a bit of terror. When completed, however, both can give others and you something to remember.