The Horror of the Blank Page

Blank

You get up in the morning and grab a coffee. Maybe you read what’s happening out in the world for a bit while you wait for your brain to catch up with your body. If you’re the type of person who eats breakfast, you’ll probably have something to eat. School-age kids will need their lunches packed and maybe a ride if the weather’s bad. Then the morning rush is over and you are alone with your thoughts and ready to start work for the day.

Maybe that isn’t your routine at all, but this is how most of my days start. Regardless of how you work, eventually you go to the place where you feel comfortable writing and sit down at the keyboard. With a flick of the mouse you start up your word processing program and sit back while it loads. This is it, the moment you must face as a writer whenever you start a new project: the dreaded blank page.

I don’t know about other writers, but the fear of the blank page never really goes away for me. I hate sitting down in front of an empty screen with the cursor blinking stupidly up in the corner, taunting me (“Hey buddy, what are you going to write today, huh? HUH?”). I know it’s not my computer screen’s fault, but sometimes I want to put my fist through its blank cyclopean eye. Sure, I’ve drawn up an outline and kicked around potential plot threads in my head for days, but all that empty real estate staring back at me is unnerving in the extreme.

Before my fingers even touch the keys I’m wondering if the creative muse that drives me has dried up at last. Maybe I only have a certain amount of words in me and once that barrier is reached and breached, that’s it. Pack up your shit and get a real job. What writer hasn’t thought this at one time or another?

I look at the clock and see that fifteen minutes have passed and I haven’t wrote a damn thing yet. The temptation to start editing other existing projects or fiddle with my website begins to take hold. Editing and fiddling is always easier for me. The content is already there, it just needs tweaking. That’s much more enjoyable than conjuring up an entirely new project from scratch. But no, I’m supposed to write in the morning. Editing is to be done later on, when the hard work of being creative for the day is over with. If I don’t make myself write today, maybe I won’t write tomorrow either, or the next day.

I feel slightly panicky at the notion, because it seems like it would be such an easy trap to fall into. There’s no one here to make me do it. No boss is standing over my shoulder asking for those TPS reports by the weekend (“I’m gonna get you to go ahead and come in on Saturday. That’d be great…yeah”). There’s no overachieving coworkers around to make me feel bad for my own lack of output. It’s just me, my computer, and a whole lot of white pixels.

Ah, but now there’s a bit of motivation: stop writing and the dream of working for myself will die. I’ll end up back in the world of being told what to do for a living by some guy who only cares about making shareholders happy. I’ve been there; I don’t want to go back. That’s why I abandoned the 9 to 5 grind and took up writing full time. I’m not doing this to become famous or rich. I loathe the idea of fame. I’m doing it because I love writing and it’s what I burn with desire to be successful at. That’s why I make myself write 2,000+ words each day and edit for a few hours afterwards. That’s why I have dozens of stories out there for consideration and dozens more in various states of completion.

So I lay down a sentence. Then another. And another. Soon I have a paragraph. Then two. Before I know it the page is filled with them. Within a few hours I have ten pages of double spaced, twelve point Times New Roman written. Sure, some of it’s probably crap. No, scratch that. Some of it is crap and will be revised or changed entirely later on after it’s had some time to gestate. That’s not the point, though. The point is that I did it. I looked that blank-faced beast in the eye, did battle with it, and emerged victorious once more.

Tomorrow I’ll do it again, but at least the work is underway. I’ve got something to build on. That feels good, but only for as long as the current project lasts. If it’s a novel, I’ll be busy for months. If it’s a novella, weeks. If it’s a short story, within a few days I’ll be back to square one again. The fear is always there, waiting in the wings. I suppose it always will be in one form or another. But if I was the kind to let fear stop me from doing something, I would’ve never taken up writing in the first place.

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