There’s that moment when you open a new document and it’s just so blank. I hate a blank page. It turns me into Jack Nicholson in The Shining. People have different opinions, and there’s always that writer friend who just loves to start a new story. They make noises about it, sniff the blank page and roll their eyes back in their heads with pleasure. They feel joy. Seriously, I’m not making this up. They will tell you they are full of anticipation and talk about the new story with this sense of freedom and energy that is a pure mystery to me. They like it. Which basically is a sure sign of psychopathy or something, in my opinion. They actually enjoy the lack of restrictions. I have a suspicion these are the same people who like to do things like jump out of planes or sing karaoke.
A couple of weeks ago, I turned in a full draft of a novel I’ve been working on for five years and now I’m waiting for my agent’s feedback. What to do after my mind has been busy weaving this one story for so long? What to do while I wait on the verdict from my no-nonsense agent? Well, every writer knows the answer. You write the next thing. And don’t get me wrong, I have a little stash of next things I’ve been looking forward to getting started on, so this should be easy, right? Fun? But the reality looks a little different for me. Here’s how it’s been going.
I cleaned out my desk.
I moved my desk.
I cleaned off my inspiration board.
I made Pinterest boards.
I printed pictures and pinned them to the new inspiration board.
I took pictures of my new inspiration board and new desk space and posted them to Instagram.
I made an Excel document for my new something-like-an-outline.
And then, I wrote a full two chapters!! Success, right? Take THAT, blank page!
Then, I started to stress. The writing stalled. I started obsessing over that other manuscript that I’d sent off to my agent, thinking she was probably smoking a metaphorical cigarette and trying to figure out how to tell me the work was a complete waste. I started having nightmares. Anxiety dreams where my teeth fell out. So, I decided to stop thinking about my work and start thinking about other people’s work. I offered to Beta read for a couple of extremely talented author friends and suddenly, I realized three thousand mistakes in the manuscript that is already gone, gone, gone! I also decided the new ideas and chapters I’d scribbled out were all flawed and flat and without promise at all. Gloom, despair and agony on me!
If you’re thinking right about now that I’m one of those whiny, published authors who really ought to just go eat worms, I agree with you. Because really to be published at all in this lifetime is sort of a miracle - at least I think so. I am being whiny. But it’s not my fault! I am normally a very rational person. I’m a hard worker. I’m organized and pragmatic. I celebrate creativity and take my rest and daydream when I feel compelled and I don’t even sweat it like it’s wasted time. I am balanced, damn it. It’s that blank page! Want to know why? Because it’s NOT A PAGE!
It’s a mirror.
I’m not going to tell you to make friends with your blank page. I think it’s like jumping out of planes or karaoke – you can’t force yourself to enjoy it. But I will tell you that the blank page will bring out the truth of you, one way or another. For me, it exposes that I am an anxious writer. I expect a lot of myself and facing the unwritten words that could make or break my future as an author can really unravel my sanity. What I’m learning is that although the mirror of the blank page may reflect the truth, it can’t make me see it. I see what I want to see, like we all do. So, I decided this week to work on my perspective, to stop comparing myself and my stories, to quit making up doomsday scenarios in my head, to read something for pleasure, and to remember why I sent that manuscript off to my agent in the first place: because I love that book and I know some reader, some place, will, too.
If you’re facing the blank page, try looking a little deeper and more honestly, beyond the pale glare until you can see what’s truly being reflected back. And then, don’t be afraid to see what’s got you hating that starting place. You might be surprised. You don’t have to leap. You don’t have to sing one note. Take it from me – and Jack, the dull boy - you just have to get past yourself to the story.
How about you? Do you actually like beginnings? Any tips for those who don't?
* * * *
Kimberly Brock is the award winning author of the #1 Amazon bestseller, THE RIVER WITCH (Bell Bridge Books, 2012). A former actor and special needs educator, Kimberly is the recipient of the Georgia Author of the Year 2013 Award. A literary work reminiscent of celebrated southern author Carson McCullers, THE RIVER WITCH has been chosen by two national book clubs.
Kimberly’s writing has appeared in anthologies, blogs and magazines, including Writer Unboxed and Psychology Today. Kimberly served as the Blog Network Coordinator for She Reads, a national online book club from 2012 to 2014, actively spearheading several women’s literacy efforts. She lectures and leads workshops on the inherent power in telling our stories and is founder of Tinderbox Writer’s Workshop. She is also owner of Kimberly Brock Pilates.
She lives in the foothills of north Atlanta with her husband and three children, where she is at work on her next novel. Visit her website at kimberlybrockbooks.com for more information and to find her blog.
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
Um. I DO like to jump out of planes. And sing Karaoke (although the audience isn't as happy about it as I). I LOVE beginnings! Why? Because the story is in the white light of a new car on a convention floor - all shiny and perfect. It's when I'm past the beginning gush of brilliance, and fall into the middle (aka: The Pit of Despair) that things go bad.
And I'm the reader who can't wait to read your next book!
Of course you are a daredevil!! I love that about you! I think maybe I love the fifteen minutes AFTER the beginning, when it feels like I'm getting something really write and wonderful and fresh onto the page. It's right after that, when I lose my mind. LOL
I promise I'm hard at work on getting that new book to you!
It's a mirror. I've never heard it said better. Thank you.
Oh, but it is! And probably a good reason for me to go wash my hair now. 🙂
For me, it's the other thing you pointed out - the finished manuscript you're pretty sure isn't up to expectations.
I'm in the copy edit stages of the next book, and trying to understand what my agent and editor liked about it. Every sentence needs improving. Every analogy sounds cheesy. I almost want to have a two year old type of tantrum, ya know, where you jump up and down, and throw yourself on the floor while hollering, "Can I get a do over please?!?!? I'm comparing this new work to a previous work, and having that sinking feeling it will never be up to par with it.
Yep all sorts of ways for my mind to go Helter Skelter on me.
A blank page is filled with possibilities of literary genius. Until. 🙂
Like Laura said, can't wait to see what you've cooked up next!
Yeah, see, I'm pretty neurotic about the whole process when it comes down to it. 🙂 It's that high expectations thing. Are you a first born? I am. I wonder if that's got a lot to do with it.
Hmmmm, wonder if the first born thing has something to do with it...
Ah, no, I'm not...but I've heard that before. It's just me and my brother - Mom used to say, "She's the baby of the family." But yeah, neurotic is also a good way to describe my own internal workings. 😉
For me, it's even the blank page at the start of the day. If I don't leave off in the middle of a scene, that page reflects back all the self-doubt and I instantly assume it's all doom and gloom and failure and what in the world is this book about anyway?
Perhaps I need to start staring at that blank page like the old Stuart Smalley stared into his mirror on SNL and repeat: "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me." 🙂
Sometimes that one gets me, too! ESPECIALLY if I go back to read the words from the day before. It can be hard to just DRAFT without judgment. And yeah, I like the words of affirmation. 🙂
See, and that IS my process! The next morning, I edit the day before's stuff, and that warms me up for the day's writing!
Vive le difference!
We like the words on the page! 🙂
I like the fresh beginnings of each day. For me, the boogie man is what I see/read after I finish the draft, let it sit for a while and go back to revise and edit. I am always mortified that I thought what I was doing was writing. Luckily, it is so embarrassing I can't wait to edit out the ugliness. 🙂
And I'm looking forward to that next book of yours, too.
I still have a hard time reading from my published work, Beverly. I see errors everywhere and ways I could have improved the story. I hope one day it will be like those beach photos from ten years ago when I thought I was fat and now I look at them and WISH I still looked that good! 🙂
Oh I love this so much and can definitely relate! I was just talking about this with a friend recently. The blank page stresses me out and I convince myself I have no idea what I'm doing and have no business trying to write. I greatly prefer the revision stage. Your story is phenomenal and this next one will be too. More importantly, YOU are phenomenal. 🙂
I do like beginnings. It's later in the book that gives me fits - the structure, organization part of things. 🙂 And you made me laugh with this: " I started having nightmares. Anxiety dreams where my teeth fell out." I know those dreams...where your car goes out of control into the water and you suffocate under the lake, horrors befall your children and (yes!) where your teeth fall out. A good imagination is both a blessing and a curse.
I have CRAZY dreams! I think I never stop writing stories, not even in my sleep!
My FitBit tells me I have about 10% more REM sleep than the average sleeper. I wonder if that's a writer thang....
I like the bit before the actual beginning - when the story is fizzing in your head and you can SEE how good it's going to be. But yes, that actual first line on the first page is a killer
Ha! I LOVE this: "when the story is fizzing in your head..." That is PERFECT!! Step One of the Novel Writing Process: Mental Carbonation. 🙂
"...the blank page will bring out the truth of you, one way or another." LOVE THIS! Such truth in your words. And while sometimes a bit scary, I find it exciting, too. Because when we as authors look "behind the curtain," sometimes we find things we didn't consciously know were there, and in doing so (hopefully) evolve, not only as writers, but as humans as well.
I need to print and post this near my desk.
I'm going through what you described right now. Thanks for the perspective.
[…] few weeks ago, the fabulous Kimberly Brock wrote a post about the fear of the blank page. She claimed that there are people who love it and she called them psychopaths and equated it to […]