Friday, April 20, 2012

The Crapulous Blank Page

I've never really been one to post inspirational quotes. It's not that I don't find them inspiring. Sometimes just the right picture/quote/song says just what I need to hear. But sometimes it's idealistic poop-on-a stick people try to feed you to get you to stop screaming.

That said, allow me to post an inspirational quote. I'll even throw in an inspirational photo of an old fashioned typewriter and a blurry background of inspirational autumn:

A word is a bud attempting to become a twig. How can one not dream while writing? It is the pen which dreams. The blank page gives the right to dream.
--Gaston Bachelard

Aww. Isn't that inspiring?

Eh hmm. Truth?

I despise the blank page. When I read that quote, the first thing I noticed was that the guy's last name ended with lard, and I imagined him with a bushy beard and fried chicken on its way to his mouth. I did not envision myself typing away, glorying in the beauty and sheer miracle of the blank page.

The blank page is crap.

The only writerly thing that truly satisfies me is the page that's filled from beginning to end with words. That's where the story becomes a living, breathing thing full of possibility. When I first dream up a story idea, I get so excited I can hardly sit still enough to start writing it. But it doesn't take more than a few thousand (or hundred) words before I begin to despair. SO MUCH BLANK SPACE.

You'd think I weren't romantic or something. Honestly, I am. I'm a die-hard fan of grand gestures and fields of poppies and the ballet and Paris and writing at Starbucks and mud wrestling. Not the last two.

But I'm not particularly fanciful. I'm not the type to spend hours pinning things to Pinterest or finding just the right songs for my books' playlists or digging up quotes for my sanity. Perhaps it's a matter of practicality (or the sanity is already lost). I have two children and a husband to feed and water and my volunteer hours are ridiculous (seriously, go ahead and crown me Martyr of the Year.) But mostly, I'm really impatient. I don't want to fantasize about my stories. I want to live them. And I can't do that until I've written something. And that's bloody difficult. First drafts are killer. I will often rush through them just to have words on the page--something to work with, at least. I'm the photographer who doesn't necessarily envision the shot and then take it; I must take it and then work it until it becomes something glorious.

I just can't really see the story until I've written it. It's like I have to have a frame of reference in order to function artistically, but the frame of reference is inside my head not yet written--I've never found it outside of myself. That's the kicker. But by the time I've got a rough story written out, I'm so impatient to jump into revision, I don't want to go searching for stuff other people have tumblred and pinned and whatever to work the kinks out of the book. I just want to find my own story by digging inside my own head even more.

There is a certain vanity to this, I admit. But mostly just impatience.

Maybe this means I'm not a true artist?

It may be, though, there are simply two kinds of writers. Those that love the blank page and the endless possibility (these may be the ones who dream and fantasize and pin before the words come); and those who detest the blank page and revel in revision, dreaming and pinning and whatnot after the initial words. And then there's me who doesn't pin at all but thrashes inside my own mind looking for people and things that have never existed outside my head. Oh the folly. The torture...

You know that fiction, prose rather, is possibly the roughest trade of all in writing. You do not have the reference, the old important reference. You have the sheet of blank paper, the pencil, and the obligation to invent truer than things can be true. You have to take what is not palpable and make it completely palpable and also have it seem normal and so that it can become a part of experience of the person who reads it.--Ernest Hemingway

See, Ernest gets me. And I get him. I, however, don't really get Pinterest.

I'm not entirely sure how this post on the crapulous blank page turned into a call for help with Pinterest.


  1. I'm so with you on the blank page. I'm just starting a new story (only my second) and I'm really not enjoying the first draft and blank page stage. I LOVE revising. Can't wait to get there.

  2. This is why you are so awesome. I'm so with you. I'm writing a first draft now and I can't wait to have the whole thing finished. To have some 60,000 words fill the novel. I'm am super impatient. I'd rather be tweaking it. I hear on the pintrest thing. To me another time sucker. I do have songs that seem to come to me and influence a story--they help me see it, but I don't search for them, they just come like a month to a flame.
    Here's to impatient writers and no blank pages.
    Have a great weekend!

  3. Blank pages should be filled with something! Doodles, bad poetry! Anything! LOL!

    Of course you're an artist! You have your own unique way of defeating this blank page, is all! Yay! Take care

  4. This made me chuckle. I'm not a fan of the blank page either. Not sure why it looks so scary to me, because that's where a story begins...what draws me and readers in. Still working on this fear, I guess. ;D

  5. Hee! Carol, I know you wouldn't need pinterest to plan a story, but man--finding images that fit the story you've written/are currently writing is so much fun. But, um, unless that call for help about Pinterest was for real, I'll stop talking about it now ;)

    I'm kind of an in-betweener, I think, regarding drafting vs. revising. I hated the revision process so much with my first book (because really, it needed a HUGE overhaul that I wasn't experienced enough to give) that I SWORE I'd never not plot a book again. Now I'm revising a book I plotted first, and even though it's going slow and is a lot of work, I'm loving it. I love shaping the words and the story into something better and more tangible. But I also loved the drafting, BECAUSE I knew my characters and world building so well. (Well, but the time I was on the third restart anyway, ha!) Aaaand I'm now writing a novel in your comments. Awesome. Ha!

  6. Agreed. I deleted my Pinterest account a while ago. My pictures in my head are better anyway, and they aren't copyrighted. :)

    I also detest the blank page and first drafts. Revision is where it's at.

  7. I'm with you. I love revisions. I live for revisions. And as much as I love working on a new story, I don't enjoy writing the first draft. I want to shape it, not slap it down on the slab.

    But I'm the opposite with photography. I love the pre-production work and shooting the photos. The post production work doesn't excite me as much. Mainly because I'm more interested in editing my ms than editing my photos. But I do want to change that. I just know that once I start, I'll end up spending hours playing around on Photoshop elements. I've already seen it happen. ;)

  8. Revision is where writing becomes what it should be, so I also detest the blank page.

  9. I get you too, dear. I'm not a pinner or a tumblr, but a mad, mad reviser. I despise the blank page and I hate to plot. But I love to have a draft (no matter how rough) to work with. I'll smooth that baby forever. It's getting the words down in the first place that nearly bleeds me dry every time. But, I've come to accept that this is me. I can see it won't change, so I trudge through those first drafts (with chocolate by my side) then have all the fun when I start revising!

  10. The art of writing isn't about words, it's about what you do with them. A blank page isn't art, it's a sheet of paper.

    Only after filling a page with words is writing truly possible. Because, as we all know, writing is rewriting.

    A curse upon the blank page!

    All that aside, I love Pinterest. I enjoy looking at pretty, shiny things. But as an inspirational writing tool? I wouldn't bother.

  11. There are two kinds of writers - those who write for extrinsic reasons, and those who write for intrinsic ones. - that's a quote, it's not mine.

    I don't think it will take long for you to guess which we are.

    And I'm all for ignoring Pinterest. Seems like a big waste of time to me. I don't need digital images collected from some random location in cyberspace to inspire me to write. All I have to do is be alive.

    (nothing against people who do pin all the things, it's just not for me)

    As far as the blank page, whatevs. There is no blank page. It does not exist. It is only in your mind. The story lives, you just have to pin it down on the paper.

    See what I did there?

  12. I understand completely! First drafts are the most difficult. I just want the main idea spewed on the pages for me so I can really see it. Then I can get down to the fun of making the story come alive.

  13. I'm clueless about Pinterest, and I think I'll keep it that way. As for the blank page, well, I just know I have to start. Once I do, it's no longer intimidating. I can't tell you how many times I wipe out what I started with, but it doesn't matter. Those words served a purpose. They got me going.

  14. Ha ha! The word crapulous is so craptastic!

    Entertaining post as usual, Carol. I don't love the blank page either. I love when an idea bursts in my head and my fingers are flying!

  15. LOL, I detest the blank page. I need lines. I can't sit down in front of an empty word doc and expect to type anything unless I'm copying it from my notebook. And even then, I've already let the opening scene stew for days, even weeks, before I feel confident enough to put it on paper, then type it up.

    So don't feel bad. I fear the tabula rasa, too!

  16. I adore Pinterest because I'm a very visual person. If I could draw better, I'd sketch it all out. But finding pictures helps cement an idea in my head and helps me brainstorm.

    If you are actually interested, the best way to use it is to find other authors/artists who pin beautiful pictures & follow them. (I'm here:, if you're curious!)

    One last thing: Down with the blank page! :)

  17. You feed and water your hubs and kids.

    Is that before or after you do this for the cats, dogs, cattle, and whatever? Do you ever forget who you're preparing which for? lolol!

    I tried, Carolina, *holding my hand up to swear* I really did. In the end,I couldn't resist. That funny bone of mine just get tickled over certain visuals.

    Seriously, I want my page filled with word, too. I work hard to get them on that page and I duct tape the editing witch's mouth while I do so.

    When I'm of a mind,I like photography, cooking, crocheting, gardening, drawing and other creative things. I want to see results--which is probably why I usually fill 1/2 of my flower gardens with plants and not all seed. Results.

    Thanks for the smiles and laughter. :-)


  18. I've just digging the word crapulous. I haven't sipped the Pinterest cool-aid yet. I have an image of a blank paper dragon and you with a sword. Go slay that bad boy.

  19. Hehe. :)

    I don't think I've ever known a writer who LIKES the blank page and evil blinking curser. I think it's daunting for all of us, no matter the stage or level of experience.

    But, I do love drafting. I don't outline, there's just an idea in my head, usually a character and her big problem...maybe a vague idea on the main theme. And getting down that vague notion...finding any entry into the story so I can figure out the story, well, that's what my first draft is all about. Discovery. Learning the story.

    (in a way, I guess, my first draft is my version of an's where I write my way into the actual story that wants to be told)

    I love the second draft, too, because now I know what the story wants to be when it grows up, and I have lots of new ideas and layers for it and I'm eager to get it in some sort of shape and cohesive structure.

    The third draft I generally enjoy. I have gone through and made notes and usually delete some stuff and start really focusing on cleaning it up.

    The fourth draft...getting bored with it. The siren song of a SNI is calling.

    The fifth and subsequent drafts? I'm so over looking at it, I'd like to burn it, torch it with a flame thrower, dance upon it's ashes.

    Anyway, my point is, there is no right or wrong way to make art. Any kind of art. Everyone needs to find what works for them. And I judge no one for their process. Whatever works.

    I happen to love Pinterest. I love it for more than writing...there are lots of great ideas on there. And the art & music on there often triggers, shakes loose, or inspires me creatively. I find that creativity feeds on creativity... one type of art can inspire another type. But, hey, that's just me.

    But, then again, I like quotes too.

    And photos...even the ones with blurry backgrounds.

    And, I love vintage typewriters.

    So. Yeah.


  20. I've not even tried Pinterest. I don't even dare find another distraction from my writing.

    I struggled with looking at a computer screen, so I switched back to writing everything by hand. I was doing good, writing everyday until it got to be around Easter. Now I've been struggling again. Hopefully I'll get back into that writing groove I had going.

  21. *high-fives you and Ernest* The first draft is the worst part for me. Revision is my happy place because the blank page mocks me.

  22. I always feel that way when I outline. I'm a very organized person and I just don't think I could write a first draft without an outline, but I'm so impatient when I'm outlining and I just really want to get to the good stuff. So I feel your pain. :)

  23. I'm ignoring pinrest. No more time takers for me!

    For someone who doesn't like inspirational quotes, you found a couple of great ones. Inspirational post!

  24. Nothing like a blank page to piss me off too.

    Why did someone smash that great old typewriter? I"m actually hunting for a really old one. I think it'd make a great decoration in my office.

  25. I don't know that I like blank pages, but I do love first drafts. I do a really slim outline and then work to the next goal. First chapter. Ten percent. A third done. It's just my weird part inspired/part goal-oriented way of doing things. Oh, and I do love Pinterest :)

  26. A) you had me at your post title.

    B) I think I'm a blend. I can't stand a blank page either, but I am one to let an idea, scenes, characters work their way around my brain for a spell before they actually find their way to the page. Other times I can't type fast enough for my mind spew. I have four (really seven, I'm trying to force the other three to a back burner, but they aren't always cooperative) promising premises for future projects and I just have to force myself to let my brain occasionally wander with them and NOT start a shiny new ms (otherwise the current one would never get done) and when I write stuff down, it's snippets of dialogue and character descriptions and I guess that's it's own sort of Pinterest/Playlist in a manila folder. :)

    But I do try to get that first draft out as quickly as possible. Sometimes I get stuck. And sometimes the inner editor rears its ugly head. But I'm with you - once it's down, I have something to work with. Yeah, okay. I don't like that blank page either. :)

    I can't seem to get into Pinterest either, although everyone loves it. I'm actually afraid that when I do log on to my account (yes, I do have one) that I'll become addicted. We'll see this summer.

  27. I'm with you, Carol.

    JUST YESTERDAY (true story) as I was lamenting the slow progress of my revisions, I said something along these lines to my husband who is not a writer (duh):

    "I keep trying to remind myself that I started with ZERO words and now I have something like 90,000 words and every single one of them was put together by me and rearranging them and making sure that every single one of those 90,000 words is the best one in the best spot is hard."

    Except I said it better because I'm a writer so words are magic in my hands, right?

    So yeah. I'll start with the lots-of-words phase, please. Because that takes long enough.

    The blank page?
    That's some daunting crap right there.

  28. Right now I'm revising and sometimes when I look at a page of words that isn't working, I feel like a mechanic staring at a broken engine and I want to slam the hood and walk away. Okay, so that was melodramatic. But some days that's where I live.

  29. Yes. just yes. And worse, the blank page that USED to be full of words: the dreaded rewrite. But we work through it in our way, in our own time...and if it takes Starbuck or Mud Wrestling (which incidentally features in my rewrite) then by gum, we'll do it!

    Craptastic words of inspiration!

    Hope you're well! Happy Spring!

  30. Oof, yes. Great post. For me, it's always word counts that get me. I can't help but look at that number in the corner and go "Okay, if my book is 100k long, then I am 23.4% of the way done... OH GOD, LESS THAN A THIRD?!" It's pretty crushing!

  31. Great, honest post. I'm the same way... I hate the blank page, I think that's why I like NaNo. Writing with reckless abandon. It's freeing. I wish I could be a dreamer, but alas, I need it on the page. I do, however, like Pinterest and think it's pretty cool!

    LOVE that quote from Ernest ;o)

    Hope you are well <3<3

  32. Editing and revising has become my most favorite part of the process. But I will admit to enjoying the drafting stage too. Usually it involves a page and a HB pencil - because I can only brainstorm in pencil. And I usurp the blank page simply by writing something, anything - even if it's a curse word or a line about how I am feeling right now as I'm writing it. Anything is better than nothing and it almost always leads to the germination of an idea.

    My favorite quote...

    "It's a little childish and stupid...but then again, so is high school."

  33. My favorite quote is," Never, Never, Never Give Up," Winston Churchill. It coincides with the novel I am writing about WWII.

    I haven't investigated was a flop for me, so I'm not willing to invest time into something that will take me away from writing right now...

  34. I love quotes but I don't post them as much. My favourite one is too long to write here.

    I'm not on Pinterest...I struggle to manage my blog alone so I am not very sure about signing up with Pinterest, LOL.


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