Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Blank Page

A blank page can be a fearsome thing. When there is a sense of something waiting to be written, and needing to be written, but it is not yet there--the ideas have not coalesced yet.

It's worst, of course, when you know you have to have something to turn in. If there's no pressure, then the page is not as fearsome. It's a little like insomnia, I think: if you have to get up by a certain time, then in order to get sleep, you need to fall asleep quickly, and that pressure to sleep makes sleep hard to find. The same is true with the blank page: the pressure to write makes the writing harder.

To whatever extent necessary, then, we should come to terms with the blank page, and accept the possibility of it remaining blank, even as we seek the words to fill it. We want to be able to look at the blank page as an opportunity, not a burden.

I really like blank pages for people who have to rewrite. I find that in my writing, the blank page can help me find new ways of expressing ideas, and new ideas, in a way that is quite inhibited by trying to revise an old draft.

The old draft carries with it old ways of thinking about the project. An old draft was structured with the wisdom that was available at the beginning of your previous writing cycle. The old draft does not carry with it the things that you learned in the process of writing. The blank page allows us to stop and look inside to try to see that inner vision as it stands in the present moment--that sense of intention and direction that stands behind the work we are doing. The blank page allows us to start again with what we have learned, but without trappings of the old ideas that we may have abandoned.

But it's only an opportunity if we see it as such.

Many writers have invested so much in previous drafts that the thought of returning to the blank page is terrifying--as if it nullifies all the work that was previously done. But it does not. First of all, all the previous writing efforts teach the writer something about the project. And what is most important in a writing project is not the words, but the ideas that drive the words. Secondly, starting with a fresh blank page does not preclude rehabilitating parts of the old manuscript, it just puts off such rehabilitation until the vision of the new draft has been laid out in some detail.

So, while it can be intimidating, the blank page represents a beautiful opportunity--provided we can see it as such.

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