As a wannabe writer, I live with the age old fear of being struck down with ‘writer’s block’. The rumour is that it’s always there, lurking in the background, threatening to steal our calling, our passion at a moments notice. I usually find it hard to imagine staring at that ominous blank page and having nothing to add, no story to tell. I feel like I will always have some sort of story to tell, even if I am too deeply depressed to articulate it into a collection of coherent sentences.
Perhaps I don’t have a right to fear writers block because unlike many writers out there, I don’t usually write for money. I am not financially or contractually tied to anyone elses timelines or expectations so if I don’t feel like writing for a few weeks, no pressure, I simply don’t write until I am once again overcome with the urge to put pen to paper, or more correctly fingers to the keyboard, and suddenly the words are just flowing uncontrollably out of my soul like projectile vomit. I call it a “Soul purge”.
I watched a movie tonight with Mum, it’s called “The Wife”. Not everyone would feel it the same level I felt it, honestly my Hubby would have probably fallen asleep, but its a film I think most writers would relate to somewhat – particularly older female writers. There are many quiet yet important points made within this movie and while many are subtle background noise rather than the main story line, they still pack quite a punch.
The final scene made me suddenly think about what the metaphor of a blank page can mean to a writer. The more I thought about it the more I realise that it means so much more, SO MUCH MORE than I had ever considered before.
We can tell an awful lot about ourselves by staring at a sheet of white paper.
What do you see when you stare at a blank page? Do you see a deadline for a job or a potential New York Times best seller? Do you see the space where you are about to reveal your innermost deepest secrets and darkest desires for the very first time? Do you see a means to an end or a stepping stone?
How does that blank page make you feel? Are you excited? Nervous? Does your heart begin to race with anxiety as the emptiness of the white paper seems to move in and out of your visual field? Do your fingers start to sweat as your mind fills with self-doubt all the while the curser just blinks at you unforgivingly, as if to remind you of an impossible starting point?
A blank page can be a clean slate, a fresh start, a new beginning, or some other cliché metaphor for an optimistic outlook or it can strike absolute terror into the hearts of writers who feel like it will never be filled.
But as was mentioned in the movie, writers always have something to say. We need to write as much as we need to breath, it’s like giving birth to a baby, if you don’t choose to push or nobody tells you to push eventually your body just starts doing it for you all by itself. When that urge overtakes you caveman style you have all the building blocks you need, but it’s up to you to make that push count so you choose to push even harder until eventually you bring your child, blog post or short story into the world.
If you are stuck for ideas then follow that old Golden Rule: Write what you know.
They only say it so often because its true! While it can be fun and challanging to write what you don’t know too (and if you feel like researching the habits of 13th century alligator hunters then go for it) but when you are staring at that blinking curser wondering if you will ever leave your computer again, adding your own experiences into your blog post or fiction writing will make things a damn sight easier. When you know what experiences have felt like first hand, you can give those experiences authentically to your fictional characters or share them directly with blog followers who may be able to strongly relate.
Rather than writing 100 blog posts about not knowing what to write about, if you are overwhelmed with fear about the blank page then write about whats at the bottom of the fear not the blankness of the page. How? Analyse yourself. What else scares you and why? (Something does, everyone is afraid of something!) Write about the fear of being afraid, why is it scary to feel fear? Does being afraid make you feel weak or unlovable? Who’s expectations aren’t you living up to? What about the fear of someone else knowing you’re afraid? Does that change their opinion of you? Is that even their genuine opinion or is that possibly your own secret or hidden opinion being reflected back upon yourself? Go deep.
Write about your most fearful painful truth, write about what that felt like in your body, did it make you tremble? Were you drenched in rivers of perspiration? Write about how it affected your outlook on the world, why it has changed you – and it HAS changed you, for better or worse and deep down you know that because you are thinking about it right now! You don’t have to show anyone that deep personal writing, you can absolutely burn it ceremoniously later on, but the realisations you will come to by laying it all out there on that blank page, will open up your mind and your heart to possibilities you never imagined and that can also really help you develop fictional characters for your next best seller or simply give your racing mind a moment of clarity and peace in which to rest and come up with an idea.
When you are stuck developing a characters personality you can try giving them traits and opinions that are vastly different to your own personal ones. Create characters that challenge your morals and ideals, let them make you angry and build off of it. Take this opportunity to use all that time you spend “what if’ing” about your real world anxieties to the next level and let them begin to form plots in this new world you are building.
Remember: You are God to your characters, you have the power to create them and destroy them. Use it. Hate some of your characters and love some of your characters, let your most spiteful characters win sometimes, it’s okay to sadistically tear apart families and shatter lives in one fucked up but powerful typing frenzy.
Life is random and so is death and despite what modern day Disney would have you believe, in the real world bad guys sometimes get away with it and good guys die young and alone. Bring that reality into your story like they did in the good old days. Have you ever actually read a Grimms fairy tale? ‘Once upon a time’ usually devolves into a twisted mind altering middle and a grizzly sadistic end for many characters especially children; only very few live happily ever after.
So when you stare into that empty white box in front of you, imagine the lives of all of those half-formed characters currently stuck inside your swirling head finally having the chance to come to life. Picture them physically running out of your head and onto the page and embrace their imperfections, laugh at how one trips over his feet, one skip’s and dances and another gets lost while distracted by a butterfly.
Give them the opportunity to explore their world, let them climb Willow trees, breath in the scented air of springtime, discover love in a seedy neighbourhood, feel heartbreak and crave revenge. Watch them grow as they lose themselves in their bizarre passions, show them the lessons they have learned through their hardships even when they can’t see them themselves for the pain.
Let your blank page become a platform for your characters to spread vivid wonder and strike incomprehensible fear into the hearts and minds of their and your friends, family and strangers as you all watch them discover exactly what it means to be distinctly and imperfectly human. And then let them, teach you.
Do you ever suffer from writers block?