Facing The Blank Page
By Jacob Krueger
How To Face The Blank Page
Whether you’re brand new to writing or have been writing for years, there is a common fear you share with all writers: the fear of the blank page. When we dream about writing, we can imagine the blank page as a place of possibility, excitement and inspiration. After all, something empty can be filled with anything you choose. And the desire to express our creativity without limits or barriers is why most of us became writers in the first place.
When we’re at our best as writers, we revel in the freedom of that blank page. But other times, all that freedom can be crippling.
Sometimes, the sheer emptiness of all that white space leaves us feeling like we’re lost in a blinding snowstorm. With no landmarks to guide us, and no sense of direction, we find ourselves racing in frantic circles, until we’re so terrified of taking another step in the wrong direction that we don’t dare take any step at all. Suddenly, our minds are as blank as that empty piece of paper. All the ideas we were so desperate to express seem like they’ve suddenly disappeared, and anything we have managed to jot down seems so inadequate, when confronted with that whiteness, that we start to wonder if we have anything to say at all.
So what are you supposed to do in the face of all that fear? How can you start to see the blank page as a source of inspiration again? And how can you get yourself writing again when you don’t know where you’re going, or even how to start?
Learning To Think Like a Sculptor
Apologies to any of you visual artists out there, but being a sculptor is so much less confusing than being a writer. A sculptor begins with a piece of material—a lump of clay, a piece of wood, a chunk of marble. He doesn’t expect that chunk of marble to look like Michelangelo’s David. He expects it to look like a chunk of marble. And that’s why he never makes the mistake that most writers make: expecting our first few words to look like our finished masterpiece.
By accepting his raw material for exactly what it is, the sculptor empowers himself to freely pursue his craft.
He can stare deeply at that chunk of marble, examining it from all sides until he begins to see the Michelangelo’s David that already exists within. He can chisel away in broad strokes until the shape of the figure starts to emerge. And then he can work slowly and carefully to sculpt, sand and polish those perfect details that will translate his vision in all its power to the people who view it. The sculptor never has to imagine that inspiration lies somewhere outside himself. Because he knows the inspiration already exists within the material.
This is exactly the same lesson that we need to learn as writers.
Your perfect screenplay does not exist in your mind. It does not exist in your outline or your ideas. And it certainly doesn’t exist somewhere out there in the ether waiting for you to discover it. Your perfect screenplay exists already, in the raw material of the words you write. The only problem is, you can’t see that perfect screenplay yet. Because it’s obscured by the snowy whiteness of the blank page in front of you.
If you’re going to discover the movie you really want to write, you’ve got to begin by filling up that page, and accepting that material for exactly what it is: the chunk of marble of your subconscious mind. It may not yet resemble the polished words of your perfect screenplay, or the perfect execution of your perfect idea. But once you’ve found that material, you can start to work with it just like a sculptor does, examining it from every angle, applying the tools of your craft, chiseling away in broad strokes, polishing, sanding, slowly honing in on the details…
…Until the Michelangelo’s David within your own chunk of marble reveals itself to you.
Stay tuned for the next installment of this series “The Importance of the Garbage Draft” in which I’ll be discussing ways to get that raw material onto the page, and how to mine for the most inspiring chunks of marble in your writing.