Do not go lightly to that blank page

Alafair was in her room, working on her first attempt at a novel, tapping away on a computer she had bought at a yard sale. I had offered to buy her a better one, but she has said a more expensive computer would not help her write better. She kept a notebook on her nightstand and wrote in it before going to sleep. She had already filled two hundred pages with notes and experimental lines for her book. Sometimes she awoke in the middle of the night and wrote down the dreams she had just had. When she awoke in the morning two scenes had already written themselves in her imagination and during the next few hours she would translate them into one thousand words of double-spaced script.
She often wrote out her paragraphs in long hand then edited each paragraph before typing it on manuscript paper. She edited each typed page with a blue pencil and placed it facedown in a wire basket and began composing another one. If she caught me reading over her shoulder, she would hit me in the stomach with her elbow. The next morning, she would revise everything she had written the previous day and then start in on the one thousand words she required of herself for the present day.

James Lee Burke
Chapter 17
“The Tin Roof Blowdown”

You can go to the page on a computer or to the page of your paper notebook.

You can use a decades old machine for a computer. You can use your grandfather’s quill pen and a special blend of ink.

It does not make your prose any better because if you do not go to that page without the idea in mind that you are going to create something that is your own then do not waste anyone’s time. Do not write because you have issues and you think that the world will learn from them. Do not think that people care about your issues one whit. If you want to tell stories about love and tenderness and loss, write a journal and keep it to yourself so that someone else might stumble upon it a decade from now and manage to write a piece of historical fiction, where a melodramatic trollop is the comedic foil in the midst of the great story they will write.

If you do not go to that page with the same plan of action you would apply to a full time job, do not waste your time. There is no magical eight hours that produces that one fantastic work of fiction. It is hours piled on hours of honest work that produces that one story that manages to entertain a complete stranger for an hour or so. It is no different from rebuilding a car engine, creating a sculpture, planning a backyard project, painting a room, cutting the lawn, or cutting your toenails. It is a job. It requires tools.

It is not the act of creation and it is not your child. Any two idiots with compatible genitalia can get that done in a matter of seconds, excluding the time it takes to take their clothes off or get themselves drunk enough.

Go to the page wearing fuzzy bunny slippers and a batters helmet with two beer cans strapped to it, a single tube connecting them to your mouth so that you have a near intra-venal supply of beer. But if that is your plan, then stick with that plan, and make sure if that is what it takes for you to write, then do exactly that. If looking that silly makes you take it more seriously, then give it all you got. You might need to go into rehab or find a spouse that has no problems living their lives with a functional alcoholic, but that is how you take writing seriously and then you must pay that price.

If you do not go to that page without the intention of filing it with something that will entertain or intrigue someone for those two hundred and fifty words, then do not waste your time and the reader will thank you for not wasting theirs.

3 thoughts on “Do not go lightly to that blank page

  1. Oh Rob, you have garnered my disapproval with this one. You have made a large assumption. You have assumed that everyone writes for someone else to read, or for someone else to buy. That is why you write, but not why all of us write. Sure, you could say that if you are writing for no one but yourself, then it qualifies as a journal, but that isn’t entirely true. There are those of us who write to maintain our own sanity, to express ideas that have no relevance in a story, or simply for the sheer joy of writing.
    I have always had a hard time seeing writing as a job, the same way you do. It is also a passion. Something that regardless of what I do, it creeps into my mind and won’t leave me alone until it is done. Some of my stories, well, all of my stories so far have been to entertain myself. And really, unless you are submitting to an editor or a publishing firm, or a contest, who else are you really assuming will read your stuff and therefore be entertained?
    If it is your goal to be a novelist, or a professional writer, then you have to write from the heart. Job or not, it has to come from deep within, or it just isn’t “write”. I would think that you could understand that considering your latest and most consuming story with Kaspar. It is coming from somewhere else in you. It is big. You know it. It is more than a job. It is a part of your passion and you have started to live and breathe it.
    For me, I am not defined by my job. If you ask me ‘What I do’ I will tell you that I’m an artist and a writer. My JOB is in a dental office. Other than in stress and anxiety, my job does not follow me home at night. My writing ‘stories’ follow me wherever I go and no matter what I do.
    While writing may appear a serious job, it is also an art form. A passion. And something not to be ruined by a 9-5 ideal.

    1. My response is as follows.
      Writing is an art, selling it is a business. It’s kinda like hooking for a living – first you do it for fun, then you do it for some friends, and then you do it for money.
      If the bug that’s bit you makes you want to write stories that entertain the hell out of yourself, go for it. Run with it.
      If the bug that’s bit you makes you want to write stories that other people will read and enjoy, I think you better do the readers some justice and give them what they want.
      Writing is a passion. If I don’t write, I’m at loose ends with myself.
      If I write when the mood hits me – (and frankly moods, I agree with Frank Herbert – moods are for 2 things, lovemaking and cattle) then I will write a gallumph of words all at once with no regard for the craft and then lie low until the mood hits me again.
      If I treat it like a job, then I have a responsiblity to myself and my readers to put out a quality product every day. If that means 250 words a day means 250 good words a day, then that’s as much as I can produce.
      If I have an idea about something that is important to me, then it is my job to do it right. And if by doing it right means that I have to treat it like a nine to five deal, then so be it. That is how it gets done. Making it a job does not make it any less important. Treating writing and stories like the writer is some kind of divine stenographer, I think, takes away from the work.
      If someone else can find a method that works for that satisfies their passions and give readers what they want, then use it, save some, bottle it up, and sell it to every other frustrated writer on the planet – because we need it. At least, I do.
      And, as a reference, read this review about a science fiction writer.
      Click on the text below to take you to the link – my HTML skills are sucky and I’m at work and I really should be working at my full time job.

      Fucking guy has a full time job, has written over 250 short stories, has collaborated on 5 novels, and he has a family which includes an 11 year old son.
      Think this guy has time to wait for the mood to hit him?

  2. I have entertained the thought; That, if not for the passion and perseverance of “Starving” writers, the multitudes would cease through lack of ambition, ideas and ideals, and majorally through suicide even.

    I would be a leader then.

    It doesn’t matter why a writer writes, only that he does. Without the talented and imaginitive few to stir the blood of the world, ALL is stagnation.

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