The Blank Page

As I sit staring at the screen, wondering what I should say in my first post, I feel it is appropriate to write about that dreaded spectre which faces every author – the blank page.

It seems that, for a lot of writers, one of the hardest things to do is to formulate the very first words. What is the best way for the story to start? With a short sentence or a long one? Prose or dialogue? Should the scene be laid out immediately or should the reader be left guessing for a little while? You desperately want the opening paragraphs to make an impact or else you will lose your reader very quickly and then it makes no difference that the really good stuff will happen in Chapter 2.

For me, beginning a story was not usually the problem. Continuing it, expanding it, finishing it, however – that’s where I always ran into difficulties. Blank page number 1 wasn’t my spectre, it was blank page number 15 or 30 or 45. What to say once the main character had been established or the principal location had been described or the first crucial action had taken place? Often I knew where I wanted to get to, but frustratingly could not find the words to bridge the gap in between. I have twenty or thirty notebooks filled with stories that fizzled out long before they could make it anywhere really interesting. Reaching the finish line seemed to be an almost impossible feat.

My debut novel, Seven Summers, Seven Winters, finally broke this discouraging cycle. I forced myself to put down sentences on that blank page even if they were clumsy and unpolished (the ‘edit it later’ approach proved particularly useful here), and, with dogged determination, I achieved my ‘beginning, middle and end’ at long last.

Mind you, this did not happen overnight. I penned the opening few paragraphs on June 20, 2002, restarted it several times, and finished the first draft on April 13, 2012, just less than ten years later. This makes it sound as though I write at the pace of an exceptionally slow snail but there were extensives periods of desertion during that decade – I, in fact, write at the pace of a reasonably brisk snail.

Once the elation of completing the first draft has faded, of course, there comes the stark reality of the second draft and the third draft. And the ironic truth is that, after gazing in despair for two whole hours at a single paragraph and wondering how I can possibly fix it, I find myself beginning to think almost longingly of that blank page.

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