Fear of the Blank Page

Here you are staring at the white screen of the computer wondering how it could be possible that the vivid, lively and perfect book in your mind has dried up and blown away in the wind. Or why that beautiful sentence just can’t make its way down the synapses to the muscles of your fingers so you can put it down in ink or captured electrons.

Or perhaps it’s the fear of the second novel. You wrote that first one for a couple of years. OK, may more. You went to critique groups, to conferences, attended workshops. Revised and edited. Submitted to agents and editors. Finally got an offer. Revised again. Revised some more. Corrected galleys. Got books in the mail. Did a signing. Had a party. And now?

They want another book. Within a year. Sometimes six months.

Holy ______ (insert appropriate expletive).

Some writers have a whole queue of books waiting to be written, nudging each other in line, eager to see themselves on the page. These writers take a short break and then start the next one.

I’m not one of them. Yeah, I have ideas, vague notions about the next book or so, but not fully developed plots. I often reject these ideas at first, waiting for something concrete and certain to emerge. I jot down notes, make trial outlines of the inciting incident, the three big surprises, the darkest moment.

“But that’s so commercial,” my literary-trained brain says.

“Shut up,” the writer-self answers.

Ages ago, Susan Griffin introduced me to a technique to use for the critical voice that often interferes with the writing process. You know the one. “Nobody will read this.” “This has all been said before.” “People will laugh.” “This is bad.”

This critical voice (or literary-trained brain) can help revise a piece, can find the weak spots, or can suggest improvements to a manuscript. But it can’t create one. Only the creative self can do that.

Griffin suggested letting these two sides of our psyches talk. First one writes for five minutes, introducing itself. It can describe itself, tell what it likes to do on Saturday night, confess its secret desires. Then the other takes a turn. Then—horrors—they talk to each other. Sometimes they fight. But they must make a deal. Usually that deal is the creative self says, “Leave me alone for a while. I’ll show it to you before it goes public.”

We must be free to make mistakes to create something good. We must face the silence and let that next luminous piece surface from the pool of our mind like a beautiful goddess rising from the water. (OK, I wish.)

I just attended a concert of Deva Premal and Mitten. Deva Premal asks audiences not to applaud. She wants us to sink into the music as if it is a huge group meditation. She said, “Trust the silence.”

That’s what I say about facing the blank page, the next book. Trust the silence.

Theresa Crater

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Author: Theresa Crater

Award-winning author Theresa Crater brings ancient temples, lost civilizations and secret societies back to life in her visionary fiction. In The Star Family, a Gothic mansion holds a secret spiritual group and a 400-year-old ritual that must be completed to save the day. The shadow government search for ancient Atlantean weapons in the fabled Hall of Records in Under the Stone Paw and fight to control ancient crystals sunk beneath the sea in Beneath the Hallowed Hill. Her short stories explore ancient myth brought into the present day. The most recent include “The Judgment of Osiris” and “Bringing the Waters.” Theresa has also published poetry and a baker’s dozen of literary criticism. Currently, she teaches writing and British lit in Denver.

9 thoughts on “Fear of the Blank Page”

  1. Oh, wow. This really spoke to me. And not just because I’ve been walking around in a panic this week as NaNoWriMo approacheth. Thank you for this post.

  2. For a long I stole moments to write–45 minutes on a lunch break in a corner in a stockroom, typing and trying not to get food on the keyboard–and it was like “start typing, woman!” or else I’d waste the time and not get anything written. it was a challenge as far as maintaining focus, but really great in terms of turning off that internal critical voice!

    Great post!

  3. Mary, so true. I love that quote.
    Cynthia, the fear of NaNoWriMo. Just after Halloween!
    Thanks, Kristi.
    That’s so true, Diane. If you only have some stolen moments to write, just do it, as the commercial says.

  4. The blank page is actually beautiful, don’t you think? I think we have to appreciate the white stuff too (but I like poetry & spare posts).
    Anyway, love the idea of allowing yourself to write junk first and worry about editing it later. Also the ideas will come, especially when you don’t want them to. “Trust the silence” is lovely, says it all really.

  5. Oh, this post is so timely for me. Life has gotten in the way of the WIP, and I found the more time passed, the more negatively I viewed the work. Finally, I printed out everything I had and read it in order. To my surprise, it was–decent. Good even! I didn’t remember the WIP having so much potential. It still needs a ton of work, of course, as all first drafts do. But, the re-reading gave me a much needed boost, and this post gave me another. Trust the silence, indeed.

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