Why fear the blank page?

In Uncategorized, Writing on March 20, 2012 at 8:49 am

While recently perusing blogs maintained by other scribes, I came across one in which the writer detailed his fear of the blank page (or, should it be screen?). He waxed poetic about the “emptiness” of the page, of how it taunts him and seemingly “dares” him to put that first word down. There is, he wrote, “something infinite” about the whole thing. A number of readers left comments, stating similar thoughts. I don’t get it. While I agree that starting a writing project can be a daunting undertaking, I’ve never lived in fear of a page—blank or otherwise. To me, it’s like a motorcyclist saying he’s scared of the open road. If you’re a writer, why fear a tool of the trade?

Yes, I believe writing is a craft and a special skill not everyone possesses, but I’ve never been one to over-analyze the process. Words take shape in my head, and I put them on paper. This is not an effort to simplify writing or make light of the hard work authors put into their stories, it’s simply how I view things. Yes, I fuss over what I’m doing and fret over sentences, but I never dread a blank page.

If you have a story to tell and are anxious to purge it from your system, the page is there to help you. I don’t feel it taunting me or daring me to do anything. It’s simply a blank palette you bring to life. So, get your hands on that keyboard—or grab that pen—and get some words down! As I’ve stated in previous posts, who cares if what you write is terrible? You can clean it up later.

Before I commence any new book project, I always make sure I know how the story starts. Not until I have an opening figured out in my head do I sit down to write. By the time I situate myself at the keyboard, I’m desperate to type—hence, the page never stays blank for long. If you consider the blank page as this massive obstacle you have to overcome, you’re setting yourself up for difficulties before you even start. Think of the page, instead, as the outlet that will let you tell your story. A friend of mine, who happens to fear the page, dictates his opening passages into a tape recorder and then transcribes them. This guarantees he has something to write when he fires up his computer.

I guess, in short, I’m trying to say that if you know what you’re going to write, there’s no point being scared of a blank computer screen or a fresh page in your journal. What I worry about is whether the story I’m telling is any good. The greatest fear for me when writing is losing interest in the subject matter. That’s something you can’t overcome and is ultimately the kiss of death.

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  1. My greatest fear is not the blank page set forth before me, yet the monstrous notions I plague that medium with from the darkest pits of my imagination. It is the knowing, the pondering, the hideous questions that in turn plague me—my maxims are decayed, my sentences too lengthy, my verbiage outdated, but never the blank page. The page is my pardoning comrade.

  2. Completely agree! Sometimes writers can have a touch of the melodrama about them!

  3. I think the trick, as you say, is to think a little about what it is you are going to write. I could compare the writing activity to sitting down to write an exam. If you know your work, the exam is a breeze; if you have a story within you, then nothing is going to stop you from getting it down. Certainly not a fear of a blank page/screen.

  4. I so agree, Simon. I too have never feared the “blank page.” I’m one of those people who loves getting journals as Christmas presents. It’s a new playground for me. (Same with a fresh box of Crayola crayons, but that’s another story entirely.)

    In fact, I tend to have the opposite dilemma–having too much to write and deciding if it belongs in my WIP of the moment, or for another story.

    But even that doesn’t intimidate me–I feel blessed because it means I always have something on the back burner (and the porch, and the deck, and the attic…)

    And like you, what intimidates me is whether I have written well.

  5. Simon I think holding onto fear of starting and allowing it to prevent youfrom starting is self indulgent. If you say something is impossible, you have made it so. Why would anyone create more difficulty for themselves? It’s a page. Fill it or throw it away. But don’t have an existential crisis over it.

  6. For me its fear of the words, not fear of the blank page. It’s the fear of not being able to translate the ideas in my head into words, sentences and paragraphs that will do justice to the idea. We all know ideas are cheap, gaudy things that only come to life with lots of hard work – but it doesn’t lessen the fear of not matching up to glittering bullies.

    Having said all that, fear can be an essential part of a thrilling experience – rollercoasters, skiing, supporting an underperforming football club – and for me writing falls into this category too.

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