How to Slay the Blank-Page Beast

I came across a thread about the hardest thing about writing. For me, editing is probably the thing I find hardest. Having created something, tearing into it, criticizing it, breaking it down into little pieces is very hard, even if the end result is so much stronger. But for other people, the hardest bit was getting started.

The blank-page is a monster. It stares up at us, preening and immaculate, daring us to defile it with our words. It’s a mirror of our own insecurities – will the words I put down justify despoiling the perfect image in front of me? Can I be worthy? You get caught up, trying to find the important scene, the most compelling hook. Do I start in media res, or is getting to know the character more important? If you let it, the blank-page beast will get you so tied up that nothing quite seems right and after writing and deleting sentences, you give up.

You can try a not-quite blank page. I always begin with a pre-formatted template that has chapter title and page numbers in place. The beast is weakened, because you know it’s waiting for words now. But that’s not always enough. Here’s my tip for defeating the monster:

You don’t have to start at the beginning.

You don’t need to worry about that hook, or what’s the best opening sentence. You could write something that occurs in the middle, or something that’s near the beginning but not quite. You don’t even need to write something that’s going to be in  the book at all. If you want to write a page of exposition or the history of your world, or your main character’s first date with someone who’s going to be married with three kids by the time the book starts, it’s all good. As long as you write something, that page is no longer blank. It’s yours now. You have bound the beast to your will and it will now work for you.

It’s okay to be mediocre. That’s a very hard lesson to learn. Whatever reason a person has for writing, I’ve never met one who wrote simply because it was the least worst thing to do. Everyone who writes out of choice has a passion, a drive to become better and do their best. But that is never going to come instantly. If you polish every sentence as soon as it is on the page, you’ll struggle to finish. Worse, you might give in to the lies of the blank-page beast and never start. I’ve found the first draft is the most fun, and that’s because I’ve learned to stop worrying if it’s shit. The first drive is for meeting characters, throwing them into situations, and watching to see if they can pull themselves out and recover. The hook, the best opening paragraph, the pacing, and the plot holes can all wait. Don’t worry about them.

For now, just wrap your characters in the skins of the blank-page beasts and watch your creations sweat and bleed onto their hides.

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