The blank page. A cursor blinking at you. It’s the digital version of opening your mouth and having nothing come out. I know that feeling. Writing essays, it’s a common sensation, in fact. Non-fiction is like that. You need to have an idea to write about. Stories, though, should never start with a blank page.
Brian and I have had conversations about this in the past. He starts with an idea or a theme or a philosophy or a theology or something even more complex and starts piecing a story around it. The blank page at this point can be an insurmountable wall, because how do you start writing a story that’s about a philosophy? I think that a story should be much more organic than that.
A story should be a world, full of characters and colors and truth, and that should spurt onto the page in bursts. Now, getting a disciplined story start-to-finish is work – real work – for which the world of the story should serve as both inspiration and escape. Please, please, please, for yourself alone, learn how to make experiencing a story a form of play. If your reader is ever going to love your story, you must love it and know it inside and out first.
Conquering the blank page after that is just a matter of trusting yourself. Do you – or do you not – think that you are eventually going to write something worth reading? If not, please persist writing. It really is good for you all by itself, but put your writing aside and read it much later to give yourself a chance to experience it without your inner critic already primed with unreasonable cynicism. On the other hand, if you do believe that you are eventually going to write something worth reading, trust yourself that you’ll be able to pick out the pieces that you like and put them into something whole, even if you don’t start well. The words aren’t cast in stone as you first create them, and chances are very good that when you get to the end of the story, the beginning won’t even be part of the same story. Grow your story from that first seed of thought, and come back to prune it into its final shape later.
Your first lines don’t even have to be part of the story. Write about the story. What is it about the story that draws you to moth-ly self-immolation? (If your story doesn’t beckon like flame, by the way, you need to spend more time in the exciting dating stages of the relationship with your plot, because you’re not going to make it through the work of the committed relationship. Finishing a novel is bound to end up feeling like sitting on a porch with an ugly old crone with whom you have deep emotional bonds but very little surface attraction. Pick a plot you’re ready to settle in with.)
Obvious as it is, the only way to not have a blank page is to write on it. Rumor has it, it gets easier from there.