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Blank Pages

I wrote this in January 2018. For some reason it has taken me a year to publish.

As all writers know, the blank page can either be an open invitation that offers you the opportunity to pour forth expression from the fount of creativity that resides in your very soul, or an impenetrable brick wall that appears rather suddenly in your path and blocks any forward progress whatsoever. Be it page, canvas, tape, file, or any other medium, confrontation with these empty spaces is an inextricable part of any creative process. Whether the blank page is an invitation or barrier, how we approach the moment can tell us quite a lot about ourselves. Perhaps more importantly, there are also tricks that are more or less universally available to writers when it comes to blank pages, and our preferences with regard to such tools can also tell us quite a bit about who we are. 

Of course, there are two very different kinds of blank pages...while, more than two really, but two that stand out as categorically different. There is that first blank page before a single word has been written, and then there are the empty pages that appear mid-process. If I had to guess, I would speculate that more experienced writers are almost universally better at navigating those first pages than novices. There are countless tools (both artifactual and conceptual) that exist for translating initial ideation into some kind of framework or beginning, and while results may vary, getting at least something out of your head and into the world is a pretty well supported practice.

However, it seems somewhat evident that no amount of experience alone can help a writer overcome those unwritten passages that confront us in media res. Those moments in a half formed or even nearly completed work where suddenly nothing seems to fit are not only profoundly frustrating, but unique unto themselves. On some level all beginnings are the same. I know this is an obvious fallacy if considered closely, but if you stand back from them, the start of all creative processes share a consistent general form. What begins as an idea must in some way be shepherded into an almost tangible form...something the artist can react to, respond to, and build upon. It’s a process that is, if not entirely predictable, at least amenable to certain generic approaches (e.g. outlining, “shitty first drafts”, etc.).


The same cannot be said for the decisions that need to be made once a creation has a certain amount of shape and momentum. Much as we might theorize a taxonomy of creative decisions that attend the writing process, works of the written word are nothing like biological organisms let alone more ordered domains that we document through classification and categorization. Human experience is on the one hand a much narrower thing, and yet every person’s experience of the world is ultimately unique in spite of countless similarities. Since writing is at its core a representation of the writer’s experiences writ large combined with their style, the questions each writer must answer for themselves in the midst of the process take on a plurality of forms each influenced by the weird subtleties of a quirky human brain.

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