A blank page, or screen in this modern age, has such a wonderful, mystical and frustrating dichotomy to it. On the one hand it holds absolutely nothing: it’s vastly sparse and unappealing; on the other hand, it can become anything, limited only by your imagination. That is both the great triumph and bane of a writer.
The most astounding piece of writing advice I ever received was from Neil Gaiman. Yes, rock-star-level-famous author of the Sandman, Coraline, Stardust, the Graveyard Book, Neverwhere and American Gods. He may not have said it directly to me, Brent Gladney, but he did say it directly to writers who pose the age-old question “How do you deal with writer’s block?”
His response was perfectly simple: Just write.
I think I have heard him give this response (or very, very similar) in various interviews or YouTube videos, or to people on his blog. You may say ‘that is no help at all’, but wait just a moment before you do and allow me to paraphrase what Mr. Gaiman said.
If I’m writing something, be it poetry, story, screenplay, letter to the editor, grocery list, anything really and feel I’m at an impasse, I stop and start writing something else. Again you may question ‘but I have no ideas for the first thing, how am I to start the second?’ Brilliant stories don’t splurge out on the page in a matter of moments, they need to be finely etched and tuned first and they all begin with a single sentence. It’s about getting rid of your inner critic and trying to finish sentences. No ideas? I just state the obvious.
The bedroom door is white.
What kind of white?
A sort of egg white, I suppose.
Is it fresh paint?
It’s spattered on and mostly crumbling away, really. Like a neglected door in an abandoned home.
In just three sentences I went from nothing to at least the idea of something. What happened to the people living in the house? What caused them to leave? Where are they living now? While they might not be pertinent to my previous project exactly, they now have me thinking again. Moments ago my fountain pen was at a standstill and now I have other ideas coming through. Eventually I will get back on track, find out what caused me to get “blocked” in the first place and then surprise myself with a great new direction to take the previous project. Or perhaps I’ll just keep barreling forward on this new endeavour I sparked.
I love writing, because in my mind are uncharted worlds and ideas far greater in number and extraordinary in compass than I’ll ever have the years to write about. So whenever I get angry at the blank page or myself for having nothing, I remember I want to be a writer. And writers write.
p.s: This video is full of so much awesome it’s hard to give a succinct caption for it. I’ll just say it’s uplifting, inspiring and gives a wonderful message to anyone who might feel like they have a “block” in whatever it is they do in life.