The Writing Process

The Blank Page

statue of david

The blank page.

As a writer, I know that when I first confront the blank page the sheer possibilities of what I could write-the seemingly infinite number of ways in which I can combine all the glorious words of the English language-are, at times, overwhelming. Staring at my Macbook Air, I understand how Michelangelo felt knowing he’d have to transform stone into the Statue of David.

If you’re like me, when you wander to the page, fingertips eager on the keys, you have a vague idea of what it is you want to write but no conception of its form. You know the “what” but not the “how”: you want to write a but you have no idea how to get there.

Soon, your once eager fingertips go limp with dread.

Today, for example, I knew I was going to compose a piece examining the performance anxiety associated with embarking on a new project, but I had no idea how I was actually going to write it.

So my question is this: how do we cope with having ideas but no plan for executing them?

Pragmatic people suggest a methodical approach; “Outline,” they advise, “Structure your ideas logically with dots and Roman numerals.”

For me, this is a sensible but ultimately flawed approach. Though the process of outlining is crucial to formulating ideas that are comprehensible and coherent, breaking out those solemn Roman numerals too soon can be lethal to the creative impulse. If we’re already feeling fearful staring at an empty word document, imagine how we’ll feel trying to force ourselves to marshal our still-not-fully-formed ideas into platoons of bullet points and lower case letters! You guessed it! We’ll feel even more frightened, convinced of our own inability to ever tackle writer’s block. So if outlining will only make us more timid and fearful (which, by the way, will always inhibit expression-never liberate it), how can we vanquish the menacing dragon that is our phobia of the blank page?

The answer is simple: Write. Just Write.

Write freely. Write recklessly without feeling self-conscious. Write madly with no regard for spelling or grammar or form. Write with no consideration of those obnoxious rhyming spelling rules they taught you in school (you can always spell check later).  Write and write and write, wildly scribble and scrawl until you can’t go on any longer. And if you pause to gaze at the pages you’ve just written, you’ll realize the inconceivable has happened: they’re no longer blank! That glaring, forbidding, nerve-raking nothing is now pages and pages of insights and images and reflections and ideas- the raw material for a more polished piece.

The formless clay has become a statue. 

Is the statue perfect?

No, it has flaws-a few raggedy, unrefined edges; a misshapen nose; a deformed ear-but it’s a statue nonetheless.

I guess what I’m saying is the only way to defeat the blank page is to write something on it. Pretty obvious, right? Yet so many potentially genius, interesting, beautiful, creative, totally brilliant people refuse to hit the keyboard or strum the guitar or compose a verse for fear of not doing it right. Only when we can overcome our culture’s deranged obsession with perfectionism, only when we can liberate ourselves from the stifling voice that tells us we should only ever attempt something when we become this idealistic version of ourselves that is “good enough,” will we ever be uninhibited enough to play at the blank page instead of bolt from it screaming.

So you must create in trust: trust in your own vision, your own voice, your own talent. As a writer, you will always be venturing into the unknown (so you might as well get used to it). Like a nomad roaming through the Sahara to find water, you must depend on your own wits to survive. Doubt your every hunch and you’ll die parched.

Don’t fear the blank page. Embrace it. And, if anything, remember: when nothing is certain, anything is possible.

 

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