Facing the Blank Page

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair—the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart…Come to it anyway, but lightly. You must not come lightly to the blank page.” Stephen King

Agreed. The blank page must be taken seriously. I will never forget the day I decided to begin my first historical novel, Winds of L’Acadie. The idea of telling the story of the deportation of the Acadians in a novel seemed a daunting task. Still, the idea had been percolating for quite a while and I had done a lot of preliminary research. I was ready. Or so I thought. After staring at the blank page for what felt like a very long time and then scratching out several false starts, I had nothing. Nada.

Eventually, I ended up doing what I should have done from the beginning. I read every middle grade and young adult novel I could get my hands on. Many of these novels, I noted, were written as time travels. That idea appealed to me, and before long I had a disgruntled teen on her way to Wolfville, Nova Scotia to stay with her grandparents.

Solution to the blank page #1?

Walk away from the page and read quality literature in the same genre.

Since those early days of wandering around lost, I have learned a few things, albeit the hard way. Fact: Some scenes are more difficult to write than others. When facing the blank page, the last thing you want to do is begin with a difficult scene. Sometimes, the opening scene may be what inspired this particular work and you have a vision of exactly where your character is and what is happening. Great. In this case, you won’t have a blank page for long. Other times, though, the first scene is more difficult. So, here’s the secret. You don’t have to start at page one. Maybe there is an action scene that you know for sure you want to include. Write that. Maybe you can picture the setting clearly in your mind. Start with that. It doesn’t mean that you’ll open the novel with a lengthy description of the setting, but that’s okay. It will get you into the mood and feel of the story.

James Scott Bell, lawyer turned author, wrote a book all about the strategy of starting your novel in the middle instead of the beginning. It’s an interesting idea and definitely worth checking out.

The daunting blank page, however, isn’t always at the beginning. Sometimes you get stuck part way through. The idea is still the same. Skip over the tricky scene and go on to something else. Skip those tricky transitions of figuring out how to get your character out of the room. Once the scene are written, it will be much easier to go back and write the transition bits.

Solution to the blank page #2?

Switch to a different scene. You don’t have to start at the beginning.

There are lots of ways writers push through creativity blocks. Author Julia Cameron has written in great depths on the topic. In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron “guides readers in uncovering problems areas and pressure points that may be restricting their creative flow and offers techniques to free up any areas where they might be stuck, opening up opportunities for self-growth and self-discovery.” Even if you aren’t stuck, she has a lot of wonderful ideas for developing routines to inspire the creative process. Worth having in your book shelf!

Solution to the blank page #3?

Take inspiration from someone who knows and follow their advice.

Writing in the Spaces is all about making the most of the moments. And sometimes that means just writing. Not forcing yourself to write a particular something. Not waiting for inspiration to strike. Not waiting for time. Just write!

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