Empty space. Empty place.
A blank page on a blank screen.
Fear of the unknown. Is that what is so daunting about writing those first few words? Why is that blank space so intimidating?
Page fright. A writer’s nightmare. The evil twin of procrastination. You’ve done battle with the big P and now you are poised to dazzle with your wordcraft skills, your pearls of insight. But wait – you hold back. Will you censor your thoughts and strangle your darlings before they get the chance to draw breath? What are we afraid of? Being judged, criticised? Not being good enough?
Creation is a mysterious process.
As a younger writer, I would spend ages staring at that white page (we used pen and paper or typewriters in the 70s!), digging deep for inspiration, wanting the words to be perfect immediately. I would get everything straight in my head before committing it to paper.
I’ve often read advice for writers that suggests writing anything to fill that space, to overcome the self-censoring instinct. Later, you can edit what you have written and mould it into something that satisfies you. This works for me. The advent of technology has changed the way I compose and I can write my novels in whatever order I wish. If I am in the mood to work on that action sequence in Chapter 9, I will. If I feel more reflective, I will write the complex emotional exchange between the main characters in Chapter 3. Oh, the joys of the cut and paste tool on a word processor!
The way in which we work, the medium used, does affect what we produce. I love the freedom and flexibility that my laptop offers me. If I want to change the middle section of my story, I can do so without having to type the whole lot out again from the beginning. Bliss! I approach the writing like constructing a patchwork quilt.
But when I use pen and paper, my thought processes are different. I work inside my head more, and will cover the white space with scribbling, diagrams, lines and arrows, visually setting out the connections. I probably dream the story more in advance. And I love using white space to create poetry, which for me is both visual and musical.
When I teach writing workshops, I generally get participants to use paper and pen, which for many students is a bit of a novelty, especially the IT generation, because it offers possibilities that may not have been previously considered. The results are always exciting. Especially when students have no more than five minutes to complete the first workshop exercise. Pressure, whether real or imagined, can be a useful motivator.
So, after we have slain the fiery dragons of Procrastination and Page Fright, what other obstacles await us as we continue our journeys on the path of creation?