Why is it sometimes so intimidating to begin writing? What’s the big deal about a blank sheet of paper or empty computer screen? It’s a finite area, bounded on all sides by either a desk or a desktop. It’s only eight and a half inches wide and eleven inches tall. Compared to the area of your work place it’s quite small. Compared to the cosmos it’s tiny and insignificant. Why then do so many writers dread this neat little rectangle? Perhaps the implication of what those 93.5 square inches of space represent. Despite the visible and finite confines, the blank sheet or screen represent infinity.
Now that’s an entirely different proposition. That little rectangle represents a window looking out into a universe with infinite possibilities, while at the same time a mirror reflecting back the infinite depth and possibilities of the writer’s mind. The blank sheet represents a focal point through which thought and reality converge. The moment those first words appear, that portal becomes a fulcrum, with which the author can leverage his or her thoughts.
“Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the earth.” This bit of ancient wisdom comes from Archimedes of Syracuse (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC), a Greek mathematician, philosopher, scientist, and engineer.
That’s a pretty bold statement, but his concepts, like his lever have figuratively moved the world. That empty white space, our blank sheet, has the capacity to move the world to varying degrees. The authors of the Declaration of Independence began with a blank sheet of paper. That’s a strong case for the argument that an empty space, waiting for the author’s words has the potential to move the world in profound ways, though it’s just one example of what a blank sheet can lead to.
Maybe that’s why the concept of beginning with nothing is so intimidating, because the possibilities that can come from nothing are infinite and the effects can be far reaching. How can an author possibly live up to that potential?
It’s no wonder the blank sheet is so intimidating with its infinite possibilities. With all the competition of other writers, why bother to put yourself through facing the dreaded blank sheet and struggle with writer’s block, enduring all the anxiety and self-doubt that goes along with it? The answer’s simple. Because you want to write. Besides, believe it or not, there’s always room at the top. By virtue of the fact that you complete a project and get it published, you’re at the top of the game and the pinnacle becomes a possibility. But if you never begin, there can be no success.
If you’re a writer, then by definition you’ve got a lot to say. So, say it. Drop those first words and sentences onto that empty space. Just take the first thing that comes to mind. If you’re laboring under the expectation those first words must be profound works of literature—It was the best of times, it was the worst of times—you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. We’ll likely never know how many drafts Dickens, or Shakespeare, or Homer went through to get their words just right. Was it twenty? Was it right the first time? Who knows? But once you begin, the words will flow and you wonder why you were so intimidated in the first place.
Personally, the real fun is the wordsmithing that follows the start. The ability to clarify and refine what you’re trying to say. But just as the beginning is so tough, so is the ending. When is it finished? Is it perfect? The answer to the first question comes when you have nothing more to say. The answer to the second question is much easier. No. It’s unlikely your writing will ever be perfect. Even if you publish and read your work in print, you’ll probably cringe or wonder why you did or didn’t say something different.
Finishing is the other half of the equation. Writers who fail finish because they don’t think it’s good enough or rework it until perfection is reached can’t escape from their work. Finishing is easier if you put perfection in its proper place. Liberation follows when you accept that your work will never be perfect.
There is only one perfect thing in writing. The perfectly empty and symmetrical blank sheet you began with. But once you write your first words that perfectly empty space is gone. Now you face the challenged to produce the best work you possibly can, send it off into the world, and then ponder over the next perfectly blank space waiting for you.
How do you face the challenge of the blank space? Do you fearlessly dive right in and write or do you struggle? If you struggle, how do you overcome the inertia and actually begin? What do you do to finish? How do you overcome the oppressive weight of perfection? Curious writers want to know.