Monday, September 12, 2011

Filling the void

It's the one thing that all of us have in common.

Every writer uses a different path to get from the start to the finish, but in the beginning, the page is blank.

Okay, it's not entirely blank; there may be some blue lines on it.  Faint ones, arranged in a parallel fashion.  If you are the conventional sort, they are perpendicular, and there's usually a red line along the left side of the page.  If you are like me, it takes about five minutes of staring at it before that margin is crowded with wee caricatures of the people around you, running in fear from an army of cats, robots and gnomes wielding large mallets in a fashion that used to cause my teachers no end of sleepless nights.*

Even if you are a margin doodler, you're still a writer, not an illustrator; until there are words, all the doodles in the world won't make the page any less blank. The page still waits, the words are dormant, the ideas wait in the antechambers of your mind like paratroopers watching for the green light that will send them hurtling down into the white void to come back with a story or not at all.

No matter how you write -- with a cursor or a Cross pen -- in the beginning, the page is blank.

I've mentioned before my frustration with all the people who think they "could be a writer too" but never actually write anything.

It's the paperwork, stupid.

I am at that moment of genesis, when the world is a place of shadows and mists. Howard Carter has been sent out into the world and I've taken awhile to give my mind some R&R and it is time to face the pale battlefield once more.

Those people who flippantly say "I could have been a writer"?  Sometimes they actually give it a go. How hard could it be? Most get frustrated and quit and never mention it again. A select few spend a month or two pushing ideas aound and then come back to me and whisper: "How do I start?"

By putting words on the page, silly.

Ideas are fine. We all have ideas. But only by tossing them out of the plane to see where they land on the page do you end up with a story.

Ray Bradbury says that  sometimes you just have to jump and build your wings on the way down.

That's something every writer should know.

Because while writing is about planting your butt in a chair day after day and putting words on the page, it's important to know that it's okay if they're the wrong ones. I think it's important for them to be the wrong ones at first. Because getting the wrong ones out of the way is how we find the right ones.

Don't worry, if you keep tossing words out of the plane, sooner or later, they'll learn to sew fast enough to finish the parachute before they hit.

And among the broken remains of wrong words, the right ones will stand up and dust themselves off and pull your story to its feet so that together you can strike out and begin to map the void.

So stop waiting. It's time.

Writing is words on a page. They only get there if someone puts them there. Like parenting and everything else, if you wait until you're "ready" you will never do it.


* I suppose there's less danger of gnome attacks if you use a word processing program, which is why I've been thinking of grabbing a Wacom tablet and starting to hand write my stories once more... probably a bad idea, though.

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).