That stark white space is intimidating as hell.
I don’t know what it is about the emptiness that makes the obsessive compulsive in me begin to itch. You’d think that an empty page is perfect, all in order, with nothing out of balance. But, no it’s a negative space, a sucking black hole of self-doubt. It represents unlimited potential and unlimited opportunity for failure. The untamed wilderness…
Survival in the vast open white page depends on your ability to move forward. If you dally on the path, an icy wave of writer’s hypothermia will freeze you in your tracks like a hipster hiker on Everest. The hipster was ill-prepared for the trek, dressed in his skinny jeans and scarf. He had nothing to keep him safe and warm in his backpack, except for a six pack of PBR tall boys. He froze.
All the warning signs were there for our dearly departed hipster. “Abandon hope all ye who enter here,” and “You must be this tall to be on this ride,” or “Your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device.”
The hipster hiker is now a PBR flavored Otter Pop because he did not prepare for the journey and the wild fury of the blank page took him. An outline of what the hipster hoped to write my have saved him, as would have a modicum of respect for the stark white page. The blank page begs for words, but not just any words. These first words of the piece must be compelling, sharp and moving. And that is the trap our departed hipster friend found. What are the right words?
It doesn’t matter. Wait? Wut? Remember the part about survival depends on your ability to move forward? Put the words on the page, one at a time and move forward. It doesn’t matter, in this first draft, if the trail is a little rough. That’s what revision and editing are for. With the blank page you are marking a path and clearing the big rocks on the trail. You get to set the direction. You can come back and stack all the small rocks in neat little rows when you edit–later.
The key, I’ve found for my own little brain, is that it’s more important to get the story out in the first draft, than it is to make the first draft perfect. The freedom to put imperfect words on the page is really very liberating. No self-judgement allowed on this trail. There will be plenty of time to do that when you edit. You can’t edit what you don’t write.
With that stark white canvas in front of you, start somewhere, anywhere. Keep moving and just like the hiker on the trail, the movement will keep you warm. You stop and overthink which foot goes next and you’re asking for frostbite. The only way out of the cold is up and over the summit.
The white page is not a flag of surrender, it’s a challenge. Are you up for it? Of course you are.