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Why I am not intimidated by a blank page and why you shouldn’t either?

A few years ago I lost two jobs in a day.

I resigned from a job with a very reputed IT Company to take up a six-month contracting role only to realize at the Exit Interview what a mistake I was making.

I went back to the contracting agency saying I was not joining. The same day I told the reputed IT company that I was not leaving. The problem was the IT company said that they can’t guarantee whether they can give me my job back. The contracting agency said their client might have offered the job to someone else after I refused to join.

You must be thinking what this has got to do with me not being intimidated by a blank page.

I am coming to that soon.

This was all my doing. I couldn’t believe how stupid I had been. I had to sit at my desk and pretend to work for the rest of the day and wait. The whole time I felt helpless, angry and lost.

When nothing could calm my nerves I took a pen and a pad and started writing everything that came to my mind. My hands were shaking and my heart was pounding. But I kept writing. I scribbled every feeling I was experiencing. I wrote what a fool I was, how could I make so many mistakes, how unjustified and out of character my behavior was and how I should be punished. I filled three pages before I lifted my head.

All of a sudden I started feeling good.

The problem didn’t seem that big. I became hopeful that some solution will surface.

That day I discovered two things. One, stream-of-consciousness-writing (also known as free-writing) is an excellent way to calm your mind.

Second, freewriting is a great way to overcome the fear of a blank page.

I had filled three pages without stopping.

I was not worried about how good my writing was, or whether it was making any sense, or how rich my vocabulary was. I was just writing my worries away.

Many a time our most fluent and uninterrupted writing comes in the moment of despair when our inner-critic is pushed aside. Whenever I have gone back to read my diaries, I have found that it is the most logical, intimate, and touching writing I have ever done.

I don’t think “writer’s block” actually exists. It’s basically insecurity — it’s your own internal critic turned up to a higher level than it’s supposed to be at that moment, because when you’re starting a work — when the page is blank, when the canvas is open — your critic has to be turned down to zero… The point is actually to get stuff on paper, just to allow yourself to kind of flow.

– Philipp Meyer

Why do we have fear of a blank page?

That blank page became a phobia because you begin to think that whatever you wrote on it was not good enough. I didn’t wake up at four in the morning to write crap, you start saying to yourself, I want it to be good, at least my best, if nothing else.

Right?

Wrong.

Most of the time what I write is rubbish. It is what I do with that crap later on that makes it worth publishing. From the rubbish comes the useful material.

Many people when they can’t write good enough material in the first draft or can’t extract useful from the rubbish quit writing altogether.

That’s it.

All that desire and big claims of being a writer one day gone at the first sign of failure.

You got to write rubbish in order to get better and you ought to write a lot of it.

Jennifer Egan captured it perfectly in her advice on writing:

“You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly… Accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.”

If you persist, over time, that blank page becomes an invitation.

Margaret Atwood recalls a definitive moment from English author George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘1984’, where the hero of the book purchases a notebook, which draws him in.

She feels that this is descriptive of how the blank page affects a writer:

“There’s something compelling about the blank page. It beckons you in to write something on it. It must be filled.” 

— Margaret Atwood

Tools can help

I love the sight of the blank page on 750Words, an online writing app. It is a digital way of writing ‘morning pages.’ If you don’t already know what ‘morning pages’ are, it is an exercise first suggested by Julia Cameron, in her book ‘The Artist’s Way.’

Since the very first time I used the site 750Words I liked it. It has a friendly white space that is soothing to the eye, an Arial font that is big and not intimidating and 31 boxes at the top for each day of the month that gets crossed when you write 750 words precisely.

The site has a reward system too where you get badges for reaching milestones. It gives you word count at the end of the page and an analysis of your writing speed and mood.

It is a very effective way to make you write every day.

To me the blank page on this site an invitation full of possibilities. I can write a poem, a story, a blog post or the things that are worrying me.

It accepts anything and when I finish it gives a word count for the day and a ‘cross’ in the box.

And to finish off the story at the beginning, I learned through the contracting agency that their client hadn’t offered the job to anyone yet and would take me back thinking of my rejection as ‘having a bad day.’ Which indeed I was having.

From something bad, comes something good. Isn’t it?

Photo by Jan Kahánek on Unsplash

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