The first thing that anyone sees when he or she sits down to write is a Blank Page. It may be on a computer screen, a fresh, yellow legal pad or the final pages of a worn journal. It doesn’t matter. It is still a blank page and that can be a terrifying thing. There are no guidelines, no map. Where does one start? It is true that the great expanse of white can be exhilarating—there are no restrictions and the possibility that the creation of wondrous and inspiring compositions lie hidden on the page, but that in itself can be intimidating. I once had an art instructor who said that in a blank canvas there is 100% potential. Put one mark on that surface and you have decreased the potential by fifty percent. That thought can put a crimp in your style.
At its worst, the Blank Page can bring on the other dreaded nemesis—Writer’s Block. I can’t say that I am habitually troubled by that malady but there have been times that the words have been slow in coming. And there are times when I’ve tried some roundabout ways to bring inspiration: deep thought, meditation, prayer—tea. Sometimes one thing works, sometimes another. That reminds me of a time many years ago when I heard a springtime talk by a member of the PA Game Commission. The subject was the effectiveness of folk remedies for garden pests. The remedies are numerous and inventive—pepper, garlic, beer. The question was, “Do they work?” The speaker gave the following opinion, which impressed me and I state here as best I can remember it: “You must be aware that each animal is an individual and one individual does not like and dislike the same things as another. Sometimes one thing works and sometimes something else. If you’re bothered by a critter and try one of the remedies and it works, don’t question it. Just use it.”
Stories and poems are much like the critters. Sometimes one thing draws them to the page, sometimes another. I have not found a foolproof way of attracting them with any consistency. At times I find that in order to write I must simply begin writing. I make a joke of it by saying that if you have writer’s block then write about having writer’s block. It’s really not a joke. That’s a fascinating subject. What is writer’s block? What does it feel like to have it? What do you do about it? Does that work? That could be a very interesting and funny piece—or tragic if you are so inclined and are totally serious about it. And maybe that’s one of the secrets—DON’T be too serious about it. Writing should be enjoyable—fun.
One of the best things that I have found is to not try to work on my schedule but to listen to the Muse when she speaks. Sometimes that is in the middle of the night. I keep a pad and pen in my bedside table and when ideas come, in dreams or in the moments that occur between sleep and wakefulness, I jot them down. Those notes, sketchy as they sometimes are, can later be the start of many pages of text.
So there isn’t any formula, any standard method of approaching the Blank Page. The best thing to do is simply to write. Don’t be scared. Don’t worry about it. Just write—about anything. Every subject is fascinating—if you allow it to be.