Conquering The Blank Page

birdie bear

So, I’m about to face The Blank Page this morning. I tried to face The Blank Page yesterday, but in the end, I had to work on other things to meet my daily writing quota and give The Blank Page some further consideration before I began to type. After all, The Blank Page cannot stay blank forever.

I have a love-hate relationship with The Blank Page, and I’m sure I’m not alone. On the plus side, The Blank Page offers so much potential. It is an unscripted world I’m about to create and I know that I can write anything I want on that page. It is an unpainted room awaiting a brilliant accent wall. It is a new garden in springtime. It is a refrigerator full of food that I can combine to make a delicious meal. The Blank Page is an uncut pattern and two yards of luxurious fabric. The Blank Page is full of beginnings and possibilities.

The Blank Page also holds risks, which often prevents me from writing at all–as it did yesterday. The Blank Page holds the potential of a paint color that dries too dark to be beautiful. The Blank Page can get taken over with weeds to choke out the roses.  It is a refrigerator full of substitute ingredients that don’t quite work. The Blank Page is an ill-fated home-economics throwback jumper. The Blank Page is so….blank.

Usually, when I first approach The Blank Page, I already have an Idea. Having an Idea is not really the problem—as I’ve aged, I have tons of great Ideas. I’m not sure whether it’s just my life and experiences and outlook have come together to marinate just so to allow me to have endless writing ideas or what, but I am currently backed up three story Ideas already. And all of them are currently Blank Pages.

No, it’s the smaller details. I know the big picture, but The Blank Page forces me to face the little details before I even begin and I must make choices. Once I puzzle my way through these, I am able to write some words.  So, yesterday, here is what I concluded:

First, the biggest question we need to ask ourselves is which point-of-view to use. I am going to write about this in more detail with my next post, but this might be the most important choice we make when we are facing The Blank Page. We have to ask ourselves, who should tell this story?  There are some very specific reasons to choose first person POV over third person POV, or vice versa and it pays to be intentional with this choice.  The problem is, we don’t always know the whole story before we write it (at least I don’t), so we don’t realize a story should be told in first person instead of third until we are several pages in. C’est la vie. We still have to face The Blank Page.

Next, we need to decide how to structure our story, more or less.  Are we going to tell it from the present tense fully? Why? Or will it all happen in the past? Why? Are we going to flash back to various events? Are we going to circle back into the past, then up again in the future, then to another point in time, in a figure eight?  Or will it be a frame story? Are we going to focus all of the scenes over one image or theme?  What is our reasoning, more or less, on any of these decisions? Eventually, the structure will find itself, but a little forethought can get us going. Then again, sometimes we just feel like telling a story a certain way and we have absolutely no reason for it. Generally, though, when this happens, we aren’t staring at The Blank Page.

If we want, we can put a character in a situation and see what happens—to an extent.  I love to put a character in an interesting or difficult situation and see what happens. Or give the character an object and see what he does with it. Still, this sometimes gives me angst because it can cause spinning wheels after a page or two, or start a story that slides into ennui if nothing happens. Or I know I will have to hack off the first half of the story on rewrite and start it in the middle if this happens, which is   one reason why I like to have a basic idea about what the story MAY be about. I might be wrong about what I think the story is about—in fact, I generally am—but I like an idea to have some sense of gravitas before I begin. I am nearly always wrong about my stories—they always end up being about something entirely unforeseen as my unconscious works its magic, but I like to be able to answer the question, “This story is about x” or “This story explores y,” even if I am wrong.

We will revise anything we write, so we need to not get too worried about any of this.  All of the above is just to get us started writing. To have a game plan of sorts.  It does not mean that we have to stick to it and not change anything. Think of it as a general guide for a road trip. If we want to, we can just hop in the car and go (that would be fun), but most of us, due to time and financial constraints, like a little focus. So, we navigate the trip, plan a few rest stops if we are organized about it, and maybe decide where we’d like to eat. When we actually leave the house, however, we never know if a road will be shut down and we will have to take a detour, or if there will be an accident, or if we will all decide to pull into the Amazing Cave of Bats because why the heck not? or buy fake-grass flip flops at a funky cafe.  The trip itself will pan out—we just need to make some general plans to get us on the road.

So….if you are having to face The Blank Page like I am currently facing, those are just some thoughts to consider to get  you on your way.

Well, let’s see if I can follow my own advice….here I go! Wish me luck.

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