One of the most common fears a writer can have is fear of the blank page. The stomach clenching, heart racing, sweaty palms fear that comes with the pressure of literally taking nothing and turning it into something. It can strike at any time, trying to write an e-mail to your mother-in-law or while penning the draft of your 23rd novel. Hopefully, many of you have been kicking this fear to the curb during NaNoWriMo, and have now filled all those blank pages with wonderful words. Sadly, as writer’s, this fear of the blank page is just the first step in a long line of anxieties. Now that we are stepping out of the drafting stage and into the editing stage, it is time for a new fear to take hold: Fear of the filled page.
Fear of the filled page is the opposite of fear of the blank page. A draft has been written, a sketch has been drawn, or a painting has been made at one of those fancy wine and canvas nights (I am not artsy you guys and that is the most creative I get outside of writing), now you are faced with the challenge of taking that draft/sketch/not sure if you had too much wine or too little wine painting, and turning it into something worthwhile.
Anybody can put something on the blank page. I could type for days, rambling on about pretty much any subject. The hard part is taking that and making it into something people actually want to read or look at.
I believe this is also the root cause of fear of the blank page, many authors think their first draft needs to be beautiful, polished and ready for the world. I have a secret for you, lean in super close…closer – seriously put your nose against the screen so you can hear me whisper this – FIRST DRAFTS DON’T NEED TO BE GOOD.
Sorry, I’m not sorry that I just yelled in your ear.
So that probably wasn’t a secret, but it is a truth that writers who fear the blank page need to remember. If you find yourself stuck behind a writer’s block, chances are it’s because you are too concerned with writing something good, and not just writing something.
Most of the time, I can keep this perspective while writing a first draft. The blank page is full of dreams and possibilities. I can put anything on that page and nobody has to see it except for me. Sometimes I love this process so much that I will write out scenes for my stories, that I know would never happen. This usually involves steamy make-out sessions that lead to teen pregnancy and twin unicorn babies being born who will one day grow up to save China or something of the like. Sometimes I don’t even put these ideas into writing, but I will draft them out in my head, pretending the characters I already know and love would fall into that situation. I know it is wrong for my characters and my story, but gosh darn it if it isn’t fun to imagine.
Where I struggle, is editing my draft. Currently, I am in the third round of revisions on my novel and the first round of revisions on a short story. The process has seriously been crippling my writing. Suddenly the words are clogged up, my ideas feel stale and my fingers hover above the keyboard too terrified to type because now they don’t have the freedom to put whatever they fancy on the page.
It should be easy. I should be able to patiently wade through the brutal first draft, making steady improvements. But I can’t! I want to take my caterpillar of a first draft and BOOM make it a butterfly, skipping the slow, steady, and BORING cocoon stage. But, of course, that doesn’t work. Sigh.
So how do we keep our fears of the filled page in check during the editing process?
- Edit in stages: Just like you can’t write a perfect draft all at once, you can’t fix everything all at once either. Start by editing one thing, plot, characters, and pacing are all good starting places. If you improve just one thing on every round of edits you’ll avoid becoming overwhelmed and rage quitting on editing altogether.
- Get some help: Writers, though solitary by nature, need buddies. Find someone who will encourage you and point you in the correct direction when you lose your way. It also helps to have a devoted fan. Find someone who will only tell you positive things about your work, and send them sections whenever you need a boost. They won’t help you with the fine tuning, but they will remind you that what your writing is already awesome, cause you are awesome.
- It’s ok if you make it worse: Sometimes I’ll spend hours revising a scene, only to discover that my revisions are garbage. It can be frustrating to ‘waste’ time this way, but often times the only way to know which path to take is by taking the wrong one first. If your rewrites take you in the wrong direction that’s ok, you can rewrite it again. Just as first drafts don’t need to be perfect, neither do your revision drafts.
- Take a break: When editing gets you down it is ok to take a day, or a week working on something new. I love jotting down a short story or typing up a blog post to refresh my creativity while I am in the editing trenches. This mini timeout is usually the boost I need to push through an editing roadblock.
As both Kayla and I have discussed, writing is scary and every writer is going to struggle with different fears at different times. More than that life is scary too (germs, dinosaurs and having to do my own taxes are some of my big non-writing fears) but we can’t let our fears keep us from living our lives, and living out our dreams.
What’s something scary that you have to do this week? What can you do to make that task less intimidating? As hard as editing is, it is a necessary step towards completing your novel. Keep your chin up, your book is going to be fabulous.
Stay Amazing my Friends.