There you are, you Empty Page.
I face you now, typing fingers drawn, ready to scribble you into the oblivion from whence you came.
How you mock me with your smug, white face, your glowering screensaver, your dubious perspicacity. I have no f#@king idea what that means, but you’ll take it, oh yes you will.
Here is what I know about writing that will raze your vacant castle of ignominy to the ground.
1. I Will Write a Shitty First Draft
The shittier the better. Just ask Stephen King, he does it. No one will see this quagmire of defecation but you and I.
And while you will scorn me for besmirching your pristine white fields with my excrement, you will have to submit because you are passive. Inanimate. Your opinion doesn’t count. And the only way to get to the good writing is through the manure.
2. I Will Write a Better Second Draft
Only incrementally better, mind you, but the turds will begin to float. This will give me the confidence to write a third, fourth and fifth draft, peeling away the extraneous husk down to the kernel of the story I want to tell.
I may find the kernel first, or the kernel may find me. Occasionally we find ourselves simultaneously and that is a glorious thing.
Sometimes we never find each other at all. But I don’t worry about that now. I’m trying to suck and not be brilliant.
3. Next, I Will Break My Story into Pieces and Polish
One paragraph at a time. I will not bite off more than I can chew and become overwhelmed. I’ll decide to work methodically, carefully, with the precision of a surgeon removing a retina. I will jolly myself along. When I think the piece is done …
4. I Will Set It Aside
It’ll need to marinate before it can be devoured. And no matter how you try to shake my words off, you will be incapable. You will be indelibly marked by my Effort. And my Effort is indeed a Pearl of Great Price, you bastard.
While my work marinates …
5. I Will Read Great Writers
I won’t worry that they’re better writers than me. Because I know, through osmosis, they will make me a better writer and that’s all I can hope for.
Here are some lines from a much better writer than me … David Foster Wallace in Infinite Jest (which I am not so much reading as chipping away at …)
“I can picture deLint and White sitting with their elbows on their knees in the defecatory posture of all athletes at rest …”
(I mean, who writes that?) Or —
“And who could not love that special and leonine roar of a public toilet?”
“The sun is a hammer.”
As I read Wallace, Sylvia Plath, J.D. Salinger, Ayn Rand, Martin Amis, Christopher Hitchens, John Fante, Jennifer Egan and so on, I become a better writer.
It doesn’t matter if I’m better or worse than any other writer. It only matters that I write. And I believe anyone can write.Even you. Next …
6. I Will Read My Piece with the Fresh Perspective Time Provides
I will either think it doesn’t work, but often when this happens I realize a new way to make it work. Or I will marvel at the piece and be surprised that it was me who wrote it, as it will seem like the work of a much better writer.
Empty Page how I hate you, because you do frighten and intimidate me sometimes. But I love you equally, because you hold the promise of risk-taking adventure and, in your finest moments, a conduit to The Divine.