For writers, the blank page is both a bane and a blessing. However, the debilitating writer’s block it sometimes elicits is a problem of their own making. One of my favorite quotations and my own experiences have given me some insight into why this comes to be.
“The blank page.
It has so much power.”
–Blaine Hogan, Untitled: Thoughts on the Creative Process
At the various literary events I have attended as a panelist, one of the most common things that I have been asked about is writer’s block. And the very embodiment of a writer’s befuddlement is the blank new page on a Word document, staring back at you across the screen.
A blank page evokes a complex mélange of emotions in a writer. On a good day, it sucks you into it, rousing a creative maelstrom of inspiration that leaves you incognizant of time in your frenzy. On a bad day, however, all it brings is frustration, and the intimidating sense of not knowing what to do. You struggle to string words together; to make your thoughts flow coherently.
While ruminating on creativity, Picasso once said that “to know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.” This apparent paradox of action and ideation, although seemingly counter-intuitive, rings true. And yet something often stands between knowing this and living this. For many writers, there is a disconcerting divide between intellectually grasping this connection and still being paralyzed by the blank page. I attribute it to the ceaseless perfectionism that abounds amongst writers. We are hapless before the blank page because we fear that what we write will not be good enough, that it will not match up to our own high standards.
Writer’s block is, essentially, the vexation that comes with being stuck. That feeling of smothering stagnation, of not knowing what to do, of feeling the endlessly blinking cursor mocking you, is unbearable.
But the only way to get past it is to push through. Editing and drafting exist for a reason. Including myself, many writers shackle themselves by being too tentative in venturing with prose. Even if what you write disappoints you, just write. Put something on paper. Once you barrel through the first barricade, once you overcome the inertia of not knowing what to do, once you just start, you’ll be able to take it forward. Once the floodgates open, even if the initial tides are impure, the incoming onslaught of creative inspiration will take care of everything in the end.
The delight of seeing the page come alive with your words is like no other. Your heart starts racing as inspiration strikes like a raging river, as sentences flow like blood through your veins, as you exult in the joy of your craft.
As Jodi Picoult pithily said, “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”