Facing the blank page

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss a blog post about facing the blank page…..

If you give me a choice between reading a blog post or watching a video online, I’ll almost always pick reading. I frequently find online videos to be time-consuming and distracting and I’d much prefer to read the text. Imagine my surprise, then, to stumble across a Brain Pickings post and discover that the attached video was even better than the text.

The topic? Facing the Blank Page, a compendium of advice from such literary giants as David Mitchell, Lydia Davis and Jonathan Franzen. The blog post incorporates some brief transcriptions of various author’s thoughts including these very wise words from Joyce Carol Oates (pictured above):

I would never write first — I don’t think that’s good at all. As soon as you write in language, it becomes frozen. It’s better to think first — to think for a long time — and then write when you’re ready to write. But writing prematurely is a mistake.

Oates mentions walking and running first, to get her thoughts in order, a practise I also heartily endorse. But to hear her description, you need to watch the video. It’s well worth it and takes only about five minutes.

I also very much enjoyed the reflections of Lydia Davis who said, “I go to the page when I already have a thought.” She escapes the blank page by waiting until she has something she wants to write. This strikes me as an eminently sensible idea. I think more problems are created by people who try to write too soon than by people who write too late.