The Curse of the Blank Page

Some people look at a blank page and see a story. I look at a blank page and see a never-ending sea of possibilities. This is the problem. There’s too much that could be on a blank screen, a blank piece of paper, a blank whiteboard.

That I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve is not incidental. There’s a lot of blank to a New Year as well.

But, my last job taught me a lot about myself and one of the key things was how unimportant the first thing you put down on paper is. This has translated to my writing by starting a book anywhere and just going. Now, this only works for so long before I freak out, worry, go back, edit. But…I’m getting better. Because in work, in writing, and in life I’m REALLY good at editing.

In work it’s reports. I collect, organize, and display data in a way that makes it information and decision makers can turn it into knowledge that helps run businesses. Data is a Schroedinger’s box. It can say a million things or nothing at all, and do it simultaneously. My boss understood this in such a fundamental way that he’d give me a vague instruction knowing I wouldn’t do it right, but I’d bring him something he could edit. You see, his time was too valuable for the blank page. He’d learned these lessons already.

After a while what I put on the blank pages for reports got better, but only because I started to understand what I needed AT LEAST. I also knew it didn’t have to be perfect. I got better at deciding where to start and then looking at it critically until I transformed it into something genuinely valuable.

Now, taking this back to writing.

Starting out I didn’t know what I needed other than an awesome book. I wrote and re-wrote the start of my first MS so many times over 8 years, taking it in different directions. Then I sat down and finished it. That revision was less than perfect, but it made my second MS so much stronger.

When I started writing my second book I let go of one piece that I knew I could fix later: blocking. Who cares if 90% of the paragraphs are blocked with “she says” or “he laughs”. I’m going to delete most of them later and put in actual things that strengthen the scene/character/story when I have a better idea.

Fast forward to my current WIP. I’m letting go of world-building. In drafting I’m going to screw it up, I’m too over the top with my worlds anyway. Wasting time explaining things isn’t going to help anybody since I’ll need to re-write it for the readers anyway. So without blocking, without world-building I’m left with what I’m best at, characters and dialogue. And YES, it’s what I’m best at, because I’ve put my million words into it online. I can fill screens with characters doing things and dialogue that engages.

So, take it into New Year’s Eve.

2016 is a blank slate, but it’s not. Going into it thinking I’m going to re-imagine myself is foolish, I figured that out a long time ago.

Instead I start it with what I know I’m good at: I’m going to keep working on my books, keep doing my dayjob, and keep pushing toward the next steps in the same goals I had in 2014, because I’m in this for the long haul.

That, of course, means filling up my blank pages so I can improve upon them later.