I’ll go and go until I get so pissed off that I decide it’s less painful to write something real than it is to watch myself type this idiotic phrase forever. This essay started when someone sent me a link to this essay on When you can’t get started, which you might like, but I had trouble with.We always have something to say: we’re just not always brave enough to say it. Halfway through I had so many ideas I jumped into a blank page and didn’t stop until I had a draft of much of this essay.This means when people can’t start they’re likely imagining the polished precision of the finished work.
Smart writers have stockpiles of old ideas to arm themselves against the evils of the blank page. Feel the occasional awe of not remembering writing something that shines or happens to fits your blank page.
Like a flea market or garage sale, let ideas feel cheap, light and easy to throw around.
Eventually your mind will hit thoughts on the topic itself and, presto, you’re on your way. Since you can’t get “converse with a friend” block, call up your buddy and talk. A paragraph of outstanding tripe is intellectual smelling salts.
Get their opinions on whatever you’re writing, or throw them a bit of yours. It puts me on my feet, sticking and jabbing like Muhammad Ali, raving and ranting on the page.
And I’m always ready to leave the list, and my plan behind, if I find a sweet spot: the list is a tool, not a contract.
I have dozens of essay ideas in various states of list form, in a Moleskine, slowly growing until they’re ready. My wife is an artist, and for years she’s worked on two paintings at the same time, switching between them. When she’s hit a wall on one project, the second project is a godsend: it’s an escape that’s still productive.
While it’s true that good voice, tone, rhythm, ideas and grammar are essential to good writing, they’re never introduced all at once.
I promise you, the first draft of Strunk and White didn’t follow Strunk and White. Anyone who wrote yesterday can write today, it’s just a question of if they can do it to their own satisfaction.
Don’t depend on these (as the more you use, the less they work, except for the last one), but occasionally they’re the only way. The next day, terrified as I was to return, I created a second document, called “My Novel – notes”. It was a hard core rule: If I had any idea at any time, I wrote it down immediately. I’d think of snippets of dialog, lines of narrative, names for characters, or bits of plot, and stick them in, rarely looking at the previous bits.
And in there I wrote down every idea that came to me about what might be in the novel. Eventually I had enough material to psyche myself up for the dive back into “My novel” as it wasn’t a blank page anymore. Groan at the pretentious ones (there will be many).