I have heard that some writers are afraid of the blank page. If you are one of them, I’d like to introduce you to a new game that may hopefully help you leap over that hurdle.
Say hello to “What if…”
The blank page is my favorite thing about writing. The same way I look at a fresh layer of snow over everything and immediately want to dash out and run through, making tracks all over it, I love to send a hurried frenzy of words or scribbles all over a fresh page. There is nothing better than a crisp page of paper that has never been written on before. I try to be environmentally conscious, so of course I will write on the back of the page too, but it’s not nearly as good as that brand new piece of paper.
The screen is the same way. With a blank screen, you can go anywhere, do anything, watch the lovely words fill up the page, hopping here and there as you see the word count climb and paragraph after paragraph build the marvelous shape the page will take.
Okay. I get it. Not for you. But, since a glorious blank page is such a joy, I simply must share part of the “why.”
It comes back to the “what if” again. With a blank page, you can go anywhere, do anything, make anything, anyone happen, march, sing, dance, whatever. This is probably part of why I love writing the beginning of a new story or novel, because there are no constraints beyond my own imagination and that of the language.
“Oh, sure, a first page is one thing, but what about chapter 22? Or the rest of the middling sort? They’re hard! The blank page mocks me. There is no freedom. I have to conform to the plot. Everything that has come before determines everything that will happen after!”
You sure about that? Why? Who says? No, perhaps you don’t actually want to introduce an alien into the middle of your Regency romance (although that does sound curiously intriguing, doesn’t it?). But, who says you can’t surprise your readers a little bit? Who says you can’t surprise even yourself?
Here’s the fun of “what if”. Start playing. What if your character suddenly becomes ill? What if something hilariously humiliating happens to one of your protagonists? What if a character suddenly dies? Is murdered? “What if” is endless. Let yourself play. Let yourself consider all the what-ifs – I have heard you should list at least up to 20 – without constraint, without rejection. If you think it, you must add it to your list. Indeed, as you weary of the game or solutions seem in short supply, some of them may be ludicrous. (What if an alien ship suddenly touches down in the middle of the ball, the aliens get out, zap everyone, and the heroine is turned into a toad?). But, amongst that craziness, there’s something wonderful lurking: possibility.
The possibility of surprising your readers, surprising yourself, coming upon something exciting and new which is so much fresher, more unique, and more interesting than what you’d considered before. Perhaps the problem originally was merely that it bored even you, which is why the blank page mocked you. If it bored even you, the author, do you really think it will enthrall your readers?
By all means, plot if that’s what works for you. But don’t let the constraints of that initial plotting hold you back. Run forth, dare something interesting, have fun and play with “what if.” Even if writing is a calling, a career, is supposed to require dedication and hard work, nothing says it shouldn’t still be fun sometimes, because it should.
“What if” is writing joy. Embrace it, and embrace the blank page.
Come on! Back to work! That blank page is calling, so embrace it, play with it, and see where it will take you this time.