Approaching 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. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick [butt] and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.” –Stephen King
Very little separates Stephen King and me. And, by very little, I mean about 3,000 miles, $3 billion, and about 300 million books sold. But I’d like to think that, in context of writing philosophies, we’re really on the same page. It’d be a little pompous of me to try to add to what King has to say, but if I might, I’d like to give my take on it.
There’s a profound sense of respect we must have when we come to writing. This respect doesn’t mean we’ll immediately be successful, but it ensures that we’re willing to stick with the process. You’re keenly aware that, in the battle of blank page vs. would-be writer, the page is the odds-on favorite. But, in the battle of blank page vs. Stephen King, who wouldn’t take the King? He’s proven himself. He’s come to the blank page countless time, and never underestimated it.
Here’s what I mean by underestimating the blank page: If we approach it lightly, as King warns us not to, we’re very likely never to finish. There are few things harder than filling white space with intelligible words. Even harder to fill them with words that inspire love, or fear, or envy, or loathing, or relief, or comedy, or joy, or satisfaction, or respect.
Come to the blank page without a healthy respect for it, and it will pummel you in less than a month. Understand this: the fight is not one that is resolved in an afternoon. The battle that will see several twists and turns, will be fought on several different terrains, with several different heroes, with several different risks, with several triumphs and defeats.
To come to it lightly is to hand the blank page an early victory. So clench your fists, narrow your eyes, roll up your sleeves, do whatever it takes to declare your unwavering allegiance to finishing what you begin.