Sorry, but I appear to have a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the subject of writing right now. Back to the issue of the blank page/screen.
I know this can be daunting and I think a lot of author’s never get past this fear of the empty page. I’ll get onto how to get past this in a minute, just hang on.
Ideas are never a problem for me — at any one time, I’ve got ideas for at least two other stories floating around in my head, percolating. Doesn’t everyone? Okay, not all of these ideas will see the light of day, but the day my mental story generator stops prompting me to get on with it and put pen to paper is the hopefully the day they either put me in the Alzheimer’s ward or into the ground (they’ll have to pry my pen “from my cold, dead hands”).
It pleased me greatly to see that a book I first read in 1990 is about to be reissued in hardcover: Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer within. Not everyone will like this book and not everyone will get something from it, but this is where I started developing the skill of putting words to paper without have to “feel inspired” or drinking half a bottle of whisky (that doesn’t make me feel like writing, but after half a bottle of whisky, I feel pretty good). If you have to wait for “inspiration”, I don’t have a lot of hope for your career as a writer. Like anything, it takes discipline to finish a story or novel. It’s so easy to just scribble down a few words and then lose interest. Anyway, back to Natalie’s book.
Writing Down the Bones has a lot of “rules” for writing, but I think the ones that have stuck with me are about being able to write anywhere and how to get the words to flow. She advocates writing in cafés or coffee shops, which takes some work, I’ll tell you, with all the distractions that you get in one of these places. But, you also learn how to work with the inevitable distractions and tangents that come to mind when there’s these distractions.
Getting the words to flow takes practice. She advocates a sort of stream of consciousness excercise to get your pen moving over the notebook you’ve taken with you to that café. What I’ve found this did for me was to remove the fear of the blank page and not to worry that what I wrote was “good enough” or complete drivel — that matters less than getting the words on the page and is what I call writer’s self consciousness.
I had a drawing teacher once that told us all off for using poor quality paper, and he was right. What’s the point of drawing on inferior paper and “saving” the good stuff for those masterpieces? One never learns to draw on the better quality paper because the self-perception is that the artist isn’t ready to produce that masterpiece.
And it’s the same in writing: get the words on the paper and see what happens. I can’t promise it won’t be rubbish, but like any skill/talent/ability it takes practice. (How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!) And the words will get better the more you use them.
On that note, I leave you with some writing tips from an author who has had a great deal of influence on my writing, Hugo Award winner C. J. Cherryh.