Facing the Blank Page

Intentionally blank pages at the end of a book.I sit at my desk in the downstairs studio, with my laptop open to a fresh, blank document. The cursor blinks expectantly. A blank canvas waiting to be filled.

Nothing comes. Not even the smallest idea.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have had that coffee, I think. I don’t usually have coffee in the afternoon; my sleep becomes fitful and restless if I have strongly caffienated beverages after lunchtime, not to mention heartburn the morning after. I’m now wired, unable to concentrate.

I’ve left my internet browser open and I flick back and forth between Facebook and Twitter. The pages update every few minutes or so, providing a momentary distraction from the ominous whiteness hiding underneath the browser.

Still nothing. I stretch back in my swivel chair and close my eyes, trying to pry something, anything to write, out of the darkness. Some germ, some seed of an idea that I can nurture into a living thing.

Nothing. My mind is as blank as the document facing me.

I scan my shelves for inspiration. When we moved to our apartment last year, we threw out two of our bookshelves. My science fiction paperbacks teeter precariously, two rows deep, on the shelves. I’ve read a lot of them, but quite a few (more than I want to admit) have sat on the shelf, unread. Maybe something will come from them.

My eyes come to rest on the spine of a notebook. For some reason, I had thought it was on another shelf. But no, it’s my writer’s notebook, a present for my 20th birthday. One which I haven’t looked at in at least a year. Maybe this will provide something to work with.
I pull it down from the shelf and hold it carefully. About ten pages in, the remaining pages of the notebook have separated, en masse, from the binding and are now attached to the book only by the paper endpiece. The book is filled with doodles, cryptograms, statements of belief, and outlines for stories. I shake my head wistfully, remembering writing this ephemera of my mental processes.

I flip to the beginning, knowing what is there. My declaration of wanting to be a writer. A statement of my writerly goals – modest, I think, at the time. There, at the start of the notebook, I find it all written out:

I’m writing this on the night of my 20th birthday. I received this notebook as a birthday present a few days ago, but have now decided to write in it.

This notebook will contain pretty much anything – notes, stories, whatever. This will be my “writer’s notebook”, in a sense, if I in fact do become a writer. And I do want to become a writer, if only in my spare time.

To that end, I have two goals which I would like to accomplish:

1. To have written and submitted a short story/novelette to a science fiction magazine by my 23rd birthday (November 2008).

2. To have written and published a book by my 30th birthday (November 2015)

They say that if you write your goals down, you have a better chance of achieving them since you took the time to write them down. I’ve thought about these goals long enough, so I hope that by writing them down I have a greater chance of seeing them come true. It only remains to do these tasks, and to see three and ten years from now whether they come to fruition.

I finish reading and remember what happened after making these goals. Two nights after writing this, I have a dream, and write the details down underneath the statement. The next three pages contain a short story fragment which I will later revise and finish. I write another short story after this, and in 2007 I send the second story to two science fiction magazines. The story is kindly rejected by both magazines.

Since then, I try to write other stories, but I am unable to finish them. I move several times, take on new jobs, life gets in the way of writing. Every time I sit down to write, I’m faced with the blank page again, the same blank page that faces me now.

I’ve often wonder why I haven’t been able to continue writing. Maybe I took the rejections too hard; wasn’t prepared for the work and struggle that writing would entail. In my darker moments, my thoughts whisper that it’s because I’m no good, that I can’t write because I have nothing inside me to create. I know intellectually this isn’t the case, but I still wonder.

My goals are still the same – to write and have people read my work, and eventually get published. But at the moment I’ll be happy just to get any words out of my head and have them reach you, the readers.

There, that felt better. Maybe I can get something out after all.

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