The blank page: graphic designer vs writer
If you know you’re writing about coffee, you’ll never have to worry about staring at the blank page. You already know what it’ll be about and then all you have to do is get started.
Hah! That’s the advice I received from my graphic designer two decades ago. It’s always easier to see a way past the blank page when it’s someone else’s problem.
Design, I replied, is less blank than writing. Someone else has already supplied the content—words, pictures, blocks, lines, shapes. Just move them around on the page. You start where the writer leaves off.
The blank page: first vs last
We’ve had this conversation many times. Each of us knows better. All creative work has first moments when the blank page simply, terrifyingly, remains blank. Even after decades of experience, these moments can still cripple me.
Yes, I’ve done this before, but what if I can’t come up with anything to say this time? No, I’ve never done this before, and who am I kidding that I should try?
With experience, the blank page confronts me in a much friendlier sort of way. It leaves fewer visible scars. First pages aren’t the problem. It’s the last page that terrifies me now. How will I know when to stop, to let it be finished? Or even worse, abandoned.
How to move forward
I’ll get to the second page. First, here are ways to handle terrors that arrive with the first:
- Write forward, without looking back or changing a word. It doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think it does. You can (and should) edit later.
- Set a limit. A physical limit. A book and a pen can help, if you’re that kind of writer. And even if you’re not. Set a timer. Five minutes. Write like crazy. Just keep moving forward.
- Give yourself permission to wander off topic. Write run-on sentences. Include your search for the right word as part of the sentence. Think out loud. Anything to avoid crossing things out or taking a step back.
- Save the first page for later. Start where you already know what you want to say.
The photo with this post is a timed first page. You can tell that I was stretching it out a bit, because my handwriting is quite legible. I wrote slowly, the way we sometimes speak slowly to someone who is learning a new language. My brain needed time to catch up to my hand.
If you compare that first draft to this blog post, you’ll see the edits I made to move the piece from first thoughts to a final post meant for readers who aren’t me.