There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t.
No, wait. True, but not the bifurcation for which I was searching.
There are two ways to approach a blank computer screen, staring at you, demanding to be filled with information, riveting information, information that will change the lives of readers and the destiny of nations and the course of civilizations: fear or eagerness.
Despite the last sentence above, I see a blank screen as an invitation to dive in and begin creating something, anything. Nature abhors a vacuum. (Much to the dismay of the Orek people, who keep having to replace Mother Nature’s vacuum system almost every week.) I abhor a blank screen.
If you’re the type who sees a blank screen and immediately your fingers begin itching for a keyboard so you can start filling that screen. . . We’re good. You can come back next time. Class dismissed for you. Go out and do something. Get some experience so we can strip mine that little memory, rip it into its constituent engrams and rebuild it into a story worth telling.
It’s the rest of you I want to talk to today. The ones who still are fixated on the whole blank screen sentence up above. Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey, you! Down here. Right.
Good. That’s good. Time to let go of the panic (at least a little bit) and concentrate (at least a little bit) so we can get to writing (at least a full page). (What? You thought I was going to advocate for only writing a little bit? We’ve got a lot to learn about each other, friend.)
So, the idea of a blank screen fills you with fear? Makes you quake in your Joseph Campbell high heels? Makes you tug on that full, manly beard and mumble about doing the dishes? (Hopefully one or the other because Joseph Campbell doesn’t make shoes big enough to fit the beardy types and no one likes to write with sore feet.)
There’s no need to fear a blank screen. The odds are very low that it will bite you or otherwise do you physical harm. The only damage that’s going to be done to you is by you. Or, more accurately, by your poor frightened brain.
People afraid of a blank screen are a little like my oldest son, Sarcasmo (Names changed to protect the not-so-innocent-but-still-likely-to-complain-incessantly) when faced with a roller coaster. He hated the things when he was younger. He would start to build up the idea of the roller coaster in his head until it was some massive monster, barely slapped together with dry chewing gum and goblin spit. Taking him to an amusement park was a waste of money because he was not getting on anything that moved fast or had the possibility of intentional loops.
Until the day he went with friends and they teased him into going on a roller coaster. (I didn’t say they were good friends) Forcing himself to step forward one foot after another, Sarcasmo climbed into the coaster car and prepared for the worst. Which never happened
He later told me he kept expecting to be torn apart, or feel like someone was trying to twist his brain around in his skull. And it never happened. The roller coaster wasn’t nearly as bad as he’d built it up to be in his head.
Now, insert you for Sarcasmo and blank screen for roller coaster. It’s the same deal.
People will build up the idea of a blank screen so much, they begin to fear it. They begin to fear it because they believe they must produce deathless prose the moment fingers touch keyboard. They must outwrite Shakespeare, out copywrite Don Draper each time they see a blank screen.
That’s a load of . . . bunk. Throwing my bunk stuff flag on this one.
Precision and nigh-perfection come with rewriting. And rewriting. And rewriting some more. Before you can get there, though, you have to write. And that does not have to be perfect. Or pretty. Or even likable. It just needs to be there so you can work on it later.
In fact, let’s make this formal.
You, hereinafter known as “the writer,” are formally given permission to produce sucky first drafts. It’s what you do with the sucky first draft when you’re done that determines your worth as “the writer.”
When faced with a blank screen. . . type. That’s it. Just start typing. It doesn’t matter if it’s any good, or even on point. Just type. Sort of like what I did to start the post. (Which was kept in there as an example that I could point to from down here.) I typed out a stupid joke and that enabled me to get warm and start warming to the topic from there on out.
That’s all you have to do.
It doesn’t matter what you type, as long as you begin to type away. Once you’ve got some words, that fear will simply melt away.
Let’s get to it.
First published at Writing Life, a new blog by yours truly that examines how we can use our memories to create compelling personal essays or memoirs.