There is a lot of advice for writers, and while some of it varies in approach there are also some ideas which seem to be universally accepted.
One of these ideas is the fear of the blank page.
So you’ll hear things like, “just write without thinking too much, build up the word count, and then you can edit later and you won’t be faced with a blank page.”
It seems to be generally accepted that the blank page is a dreadful thing, and this has been repeated so often, by so many people, that nobody seems to question whether or not it’s true.
But it’s never a good thing to have an unquestioned assumption which is used as a justification for something else.
Personally, I don’t find a blank page particularly frightening. Sometimes I might find it difficult to get started, but the blank page isn’t the problem.
The problem is finding a starting point by deciding what to say first. If you solve that, the blank page problem disappears.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but by focusing on the more fundamental problem, your attention is directed towards creating something of value, rather than avoiding some abstract, poorly defined fear.
As a writer, you will face blank pages every day. So you can either build your writing strategy around an irrational fear of an essential medium for your work, or you can try to get comfortable with it. The latter, surely, is a more confident approach.
It’s time we writers got over this collective fear. The blank page is your friend.
It will hold your words for you when they are ready. It will be forever patient, and when one is full another will be waiting to serve you.
Many will argue that you should still get words down quickly without thinking too much. Even if it’s not very good writing, you at least have something to work with and you can then edit it into shape. Again, this is almost ubiquitous advice repeated without question.
But there is a potential problem with this approach. It seems to trivialise the editing process and underestimate just how much effort and concentration it takes to clarify your thoughts.
If you have a single idea, it can take quite a lot of time and work to find the words to express it clearly. Sometimes it’s really difficult to write a single sentence if the idea you want to express is complicated or subtle.
So if a single sentence can be difficult, imagine what it’s like when you’ve written 10,000 words.
The more you write without slowing down to think, the more difficult it will be to edit.
The work you have done can become a burden, so it’s no longer the blank pages that are the problem, it’s the full ones!
I find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to edit pages of writing later if I go too fast and don’t clarify my thoughts as I go.
I find it far easier to slow down and find the words to express myself clearly while the idea is fresh in my head. I am in no rush to fill pages and am quite comfortable taking some time just to think about what I want to say.
I don’t separate writing and editing. I will edit a sentence as soon as I have written it to make sure the meaning is clear and that it fits with the sentences around it. If I do this the first time round, then any later editing is far easier.
The paradox is that by slowing down and taking time to edit as I go, the whole process from blank page to finished, edited work is much faster.
If doing it the other way works for you, stick with it; it clearly works for a lot of successful writers. But I know that a lot of students struggle with the editing stage having written thousands of words “just to get something to work with” and to “avoid having to face the blank page”.
In the next videos I’ll outline my writing and editing process, but I’d like to hear your thoughts on whether the blank page is something to fear and if so, why? Do you write first and edit later, and if so, how easy is the editing process?
It’s important to question the standard advice and the basic assumptions on which they are based, and equally importantly, I want you to question the advice I give too.
So leave a comment below, and let me know what you think.