As an academic, I write a lot. I write tons and tons of material. And, I’ve explored all kinds of writing. Never mind the dissertation; I’ve written papers for scientific journals, editorials for magazines, and creative fiction for contests.
I can write. I’ve got the tools in the toolbox, as Stephen King described in his book “On Writing”.
But, I’m still scared poop-less (yeah, I’m keeping it kid-friendly) when I need to bang out an organized set of words.
The Blank Page Frightens Me
That blinking cursor haunts me….
“Haunting” is the best word for my relationship with the blank page.
Do you hate making choices?
The blank page is a situation where you have too many choices.
I suck at decisiveness. I’m never 100% sure. Yet, I’ll jump into action because I’m more of an instant gratification kind of guy.
I need to know whether my decision has failed or succeeded. I can’t wait. Who likes waiting for anything?
Just get it over with, right?
But, damnit, I can spend hours on a single email to a colleague. If I don’t have an outline, I can’t write anything longer than a single page (about 250-300 words). I get lost in a sea of white-ness.
3 Ridiculous Things I’ve Tried to Write Faster, More Confidently
“Fake it ‘til you make it,” they say.
Well, I can’t fake a good piece of writing. You’ll read through garbage. I’ll know it.
I fear being called a hack, yet I probably am. Embrace it I suppose.
“No!” I’ve said. Raising my fist to the heavens. “The computer. It’s HIS fault.”
It’s the technology that is getting in my way. I’m eyeing the delete key (or backspace for you PC power users). That dang blinking cursor is always waiting for me to go in reverse. Erasing all that progress. It’s always in front, teasing me.
1. The Fountain Pen.
I wrote half my dissertation (all 7,000 words or so) with a fountain pen. My old workhorse the Lamy 2000 is a dear old friend.
It worked. I was so pleased that I now horde a collection of fountain pens, thinking that this tool will help me overcome this fear of the written word.
What imagination-inclined kid doesn’t like magical wands? Well, that’s what a favorite fountain pen is. Magic.
But, like all good stories. That thrill ended. As a professional writer, the pen and paper approach is too slow! And, you need to write it all out again on a computer anyway.
2. The Vintage Typewriter
I’ve turned to the vintage typewriter.
There’s nothing like the click-ity clack to make the words fly by. The vintage typewriter is a glorious machine. I can’t believe they still sell manual typewriters, not the vintage kind. You get those beauts at estate sales, flea markets, or antique shops.
At least with typewritten copy, you can scan the page and use font-recognition software to convert analog type into a Microsoft Word document.
Yup. Maintaining vintage typewriters has been a hobby of mine for several years. A dead technology is special nonetheless.
Especially, one that helps you write!
Although admittedly I couldn’t stop myself and got a modern proxy, the eccentric Qwerkywriter.
3. Smoking Tobacco
I had read about how smoking tobacco can help ease the tension and anxiety of a Writer. So, that too, I tried (read the beginnings here). But, as a Dad now with kids, and the full knowledge of how nicotine works insidiously in the body, I gave that all up.
Though I still have airtight jars of pipe tobacco lined up in the pantry. Oh, and it all smells so damn good.
Writing and I Have a Naughty Relationship
All these hobbies related to writing spawned from an anxiety about facing the blank page. All that writing paraphernalia worked to an extent—the pens, the typewriters, and the tobacco.
As tangible stuff, they all changed the way I physically approached the blank page. It all helped to change the context, like writing at your favorite desk or going into a coffee shop.
The problem with buying “writing crutches”—the Underwoods and the Remingtons—is that it gets expensive and silly. Hmm. Though books about writing could still be a good buy.
I traded closet and desk space for words. Junk for words.
Thank goodness, I didn’t get started on alcohol.
Group Think Therapy?
I’ve heard that being in a community can help to overcome certain problems, writer’s block included. I know about writing clubs and organizations.
But, groups are not for me. I need to solo that overwhelming fear that I suck. Suck at writing, or anything really….Wow, that was honest.
Where am I now? Still fearful.
What is My Motivation (Compulsion) to Write?
Look I made a list. The 3 reasons I am compelled to write (face down the scary blank page):
- It’s supernatural
- It’s my job
- It’s who I am
Writing is supernatural.
Only humans write words. It’s how dead people speak to the living. I think that’s something Stephen King wrote, too.
And, perhaps that’s why I think it’s critical for me to write stuff well. I want to transcend my five senses, limited to my 3-foot reach and line-of-sight and smell. Reading is part of this, but writing is the partner to the experience.
I paint miniatures for the same reason. And, it’s also why I enjoy seeing others’ work, too. It all feeds into the same mind space.
I can’t explain it. My motivation to write goes beyond natural understanding. I just need to do it.
I am a scientist.
Trained with a PhD, I am in the business seeing different. New perspectives, different angles of approach; going for the method that nobody has tried, and failing.
I’m trained to fail.
Adapt or die. This is how I go about my day slowly and painfully working my way toward helping humanity overcome their medical diseases.
Writing is an exercise in seeing from a different perspective. This is so important for the work I do. I take a lot of notes.
I see evidence as a puzzle piece. And, if my mind takes me to places where that piece might fit, I write it down.
I’m in the business of seeing how the world works. With that, I need to a scientific vision that only writing and reading a lot will clarify. This would be reading medical-science journals and writing down new theories, postulates, and asking the good questions.
And as any scientist will tell you, their work is useless if you don’t publish.
Publication or perish.
Who am I?
Despite my fear of the blank page. The overwhelming dread that what I say it pointless, I write stuff down all the time because it’s the best way to think.
I am a thoughtful person. Despite my earlier concession that I’m impulsive, I think a lot. Love it.
It’s noisy up there.
So, why not me? Or you?
Speak to yourself. Write more.
I’ve come to learn that Just Writing Stuff makes it easier for me to sleep at night. I keep a journal.
The Blank Page is My Future
The blank page is the Unknown.
It is a world you can’t see. Even with my scientific discipline (whatever that means; it just sounds cool), I’m blind.
Think about it. The empty page is the future yet unwritten.
This giant vacuum of BIG potential.
A catastrophic disaster like an open wet baby diaper.
Of course, I’m probably over-thinking this whole thing. Writing is just one of those special human things that will never be easy.
Our brains bottleneck our freedom of expression. You can learn a lot from writing about anything (see what I learned writing about Legos and Freedom).
“Kill the inner editor,” my heart says. Or was that this book?
Anyway, I’ve got to get back to writing this email. I’ve spent over an hour trying to find the best way to sign-off with my name.
Maybe, I’ll just punch “send” now, and cross my fingers….
Your turn! How do you face the blank page?