My friend David asked me…
I wish I could write. I sit down at my laptop and my brain is one big chaotic jumble… How do you get your thoughts in order and get those words down?
This is a great question. Not just to me but to all writers in general. I’ll start by saying that the blank page is one of the most intimidating things a writer can look at, and we have to look at it almost every single time we want to write. I don’t have a magic formula to make it easier, and the powers that be certainly know that I struggle with The Wall of White myself.
I do have a few rituals that work for me but probably not for everyone: First, I do the majority of my writing, and best work, at home after the rest of the household is asleep or winding down for bed. I started and continue to do this because I work a lot and this is the only time when I can generally count on having uninterrupted peace to write. Yet it has also become my “writing time” and part of a successful pattern that puts me in a mindset to write. In addition, I usually start this time of night with a hot cup of sweet earl grey tea… because caffeine is good and appreciated when it gets near midnight. It has also become one of the things that now “sets the mood” in my mind to write and marks “writing time” from “ordinary time”.
I listen to epic music while I write. It really inspires me and keeps my writing going, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. I only recently discovered this musical genre, but for me it is a perfect combination of the classic orchestral scoring, chorales and electronica music that I have enjoyed for decades. It’s big, sweeping music for big, sweeping writing.
I’m pretty sure that every writer has their own personal geass to help them along with writing motivation and focus. But that’s the thing; they are all personal. What works for them or I might not work for you. You might need to vary it up or do something completely different.
If there is something at the core of why the blank page is one of the most intimidating things a writer can look at, I think it all boils down to fear. And the fear of trying is assisted in its work by a thousand doubts and excuses. There is no gentle way to say this, but writing is scary and hard. It isn’t generally dangerous, but a writer is investing a lot of time and effort to showcase a very personal creation. Doubts like, “What if I don’t have the skill to write this?” or “What if people think it’s terrible and make fun of me?” can strengthen into demons when you stare at the great white wall. Instantly, alternatives to directly writing become a thousand times more appealing than actually writing. You suddenly need to do more “research”, “plotting” or “world building” before you can write. Or you suddenly need to “take a break” and catch-up on that book/movie/TV series or internet meme you have been meaning to get to. The next day, your story still only has that lonely blank page to show for your efforts.
Things like research, plotting and world building certainly do have their place in support of your writing. Often, they are just as essential as revision and editing in producing good work. However, they can and will be terribly abused as excuses, a reason to look at the blank page and say “I’m not ready for this.” It’s really easy to let these “writing related” activities become a kind of treadmill or hamster wheel that makes you feel like you are doing something, when in reality you are going nowhere.
It’s a trap that I was in for decades and it’s a cage that I still have to escape from sometimes. And I have found that the only way out of this loop is to do the one thing you don’t want to contemplate: You need to stick your hand in the fire and face the fear that is blocking you from writing.
To do this you must understand that, as writers, we cannot wear armor. We must lay our souls bare upon the page to genuinely express our art. We must devote large portions of our lives to solitude, putting our most intimate musings, feelings and ideas on public display for the entire world to see. We must be vulnerable to even attempt this. There will be those that will grind their cleats into your naked flesh for your efforts just as surely as there will be those who will embrace your creations and see the beauty in them.
We must accept these truths. They are terrifying truths just as they are beautiful truths. And they are truths that are easy to look at and say “I’m not ready for this!”
You might think that you’re not strong enough, not smart enough, not worthy enough to create your story. I won’t lie and say that your fears might not be true. Yet none of that matters in the end because you are the only one that is here my friend. You are the only one that can make it happen: No one else is going to write your story and only you can judge if creating it is worth the sacrifices that you will make to birth it. No amount of research, plotting or world building will ever help a story to be born if, underneath it all, you are unwilling or afraid to be vulnerable.
To overcome the wall of white, lift your pen and forge your words upon it.