Many writers, on this site and others, often launch into discussions about the terrible, dark nature of the blank page whenever they run into difficulty. These days, social media like blogs, chat rooms, MySpace and Facebook provide numerous opportunities to fall into this not-so-productive habit.
If I haven't shared these proclivities, am I still a writer? Sometimes, it's hard to tell.
The blank page is something every writer faces. If you're a journalist, this may be an everyday occurrence. But why does it have to be a big deal? Why does it have to have its own sub-category of work-related bitchfests?
If you access a chat board on any given writing site, you'll inevitably find a thread about fear of the blank page, writers goofing off, bad jokes, time wasting, or even bashing other writers, when they could be using that mental energy to form their next plotline.
That impulse isn't a bad thing in and of itself (writers are solitary beings, after all, and need some sense of community and friendship). But I want to see more great movies. I want to attend more wonderful plays. And I want to read more insightful books -- not another boring thread about not having an idea, or another lame flame war about a perceived insult.
After much internal discussion, I've begin work on a new project -- another novel. I've recently completed my first novel, after having two works of non-fiction published, and am just no good when I'm not working on something. My mind is too crowded. It needs something to do.
And even though I don't clench up at the sight of the blank page anymore (this seems kind of strange to me), I do feel, at times, as if starting a new work is like learning to crawl.
I suppose I mean that in every sense of the word. I recall the great Pretenders record, released after two of the band's founding members had died. Chrissie Hynde, the band's singer and primary songwriter, described the process of deciding whether or not to go on the same artistic direction as learning to crawl, and she decided to name the record after these confused, pained and newly hopeful feelings.
When I wrote the first few sentences the other day, I kept having this feeling, as if I was a tiny and not quite formed being, reaching out to experience the world for the first time. I know grammar; I was an editor for 18 years. And I never start a new work if I don't have a solid idea, and a pretty good idea about where the story is going. But the words themselves -- would they come, in the right order? Would they make sentences that move people, make them smile or cry and have a real experience?
I'll have to take the next step to find out.