Staring Down Blank Pages

I’ve never had much trouble filling up blank pages. For some reason, a giant patch of white sitting in front of me, either on a computer screen or in a notebook, isn’t all that intimidating to me. I’m not saying that to brag, because I know a lot of people have trouble getting their words out, no matter how passionate they are about writing, be it creative or otherwise. That’s something that a lot of people struggle with, and that’s okay. Everyone has their own methods and their own pace, including me. But I do need to say that while blank pages don’t scare me, I do sometimes worry that I’ve somehow forgotten how to write.

It’s not the prospect of having to fill up a page that bothers me. I know that I can do it, and I have been doing it for years, whether I’ve wanted to or not. Usually, the words start to flow fairly soon, and it’s easy for me to punch black ink into the page. The starting part is what tends to be the hard part. I know that’s not a unique problem, but that doesn’t change the fact that I sometimes cannot bring myself to even sit down in front of a blank page, let alone look at it.

This usually happens to me after I’ve finished a creative project. I take breaks between big projects, partially to “cleanse my palette” and keep myself from mixing stories, and partially to recharge my motivation and get myself excited for the next one. There is this strange tipping point, however. Somewhere in the space between projects (which is usually far from empty…) I hit a barrier if I take too much time to recharge.

I don’t lose interest in what I have planned, nor do I suddenly decide that I no longer enjoy writing. I just crack something open inside me, and this little voice comes trickling out, wondering if I actually have it in me to tackle the next project.

It’s a strange feeling, because after finishing my first book, I know that I can put one word after another and another, and end up with a novel. I know from numerous other projects and assignments that I can write short stories, poems, outlines, papers, articles, blog posts, and whatever else is lurking in the dustier parts of my laptop’s memory. There is no guarantee that they would be spectacular works of art if I tried writing one of those things right now, but I also know the value of a second draft. I know that gold dust does not drip off my fingers as I tap out words on a keyboard, but I can come back and make those words shine if I can just get them written.

There’s just something that makes me doubt that I can write them at all.

As though I would sit down, start mashing out words, and end up with a snarled mess that somehow fails to be… anything.

I can feel that strange sense of self-doubt now. It’s familiar by this point, and I know where it lives. It clings to that hard-to-reach spot between my shoulder blades, waits for the perfect moment, climbs up to whisper in my ear, “What if you can’t do it again?” and then slides back down my spine before I can swat it away. That feeling lived with me in the space between book number one and book number two, and it didn’t go back to sleep until I had clean slated the first draft of book two and finally managed to free the words. It’s awake once again now that book two has been drafted, and I can feel it setting its greedy little eyes on book three. What’s really irritating is that I still have work to do on book two before I start bringing number three beyond the outline stage. But that feeling is tapping on my shoulder, and sometimes, it’s impossible to ignore.

There is a bright side, though.

While I can’t always ignore the self-doubt, and while I’ll probably still worry that the words won’t come and my next book won’t take shape, I can still bring up a single blank page, and fill it with words. That’s enough to give me a short, blissful silence, and while I know that the quiet can’t last forever, sometimes a short silence is all I need to hammer out the next page. At least I know that I can always go forward from there.

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