The Thrill of the (Blank) Page

Do not attempt to adjust your screen… yes,
this photo is blurry. I told you I faced the
blank page with dread…my hand was shaking.

After the new year started, I knew I was getting close to that time again. The blank page. And I was nervous. I told MEH (My Engineer Husband) I had a sense of dread—what if I can’t do it?
Since last August I’ve been in editing mode. Desired to Death, a mystery I’ll be self publishing this spring, is now complete. While I’ve been editing, I’ve been planning my next WIP, the one I wrote about in Julia and the Purple Crayon.

You see, in that post I was trying to decide if I should put aside the editing of my finished manuscript and move ahead with my new idea. In the comments to that post, I received tons of support (I always do) and some wise advise. Something about one comment, from writing friend Shary Hover, really struck a chord:

“…if you think you’re captivated by this new story idea because you’re avoiding something in your current WIP, promise yourself that you’ll go back to it…”

It made me realize something. Although I wasn’t avoiding my then current (now complete) WIP, the new idea was so exciting, so new, so shiny, I wascaptivated. And I was afraid I was so smitten, that if I didn’t finish the edits of Desired, I might never go back. Those words of Shary’s: promise yourself, really struck me. I had an obligation to myself, to my work, to finish. So I stuck it out, editing all through the fall. And I finished. More importantly, I enjoyed the process and I’m very happy with my finished manuscript.

During that time, though, the new idea was in the back of my mind. I kept researching, and I even wrote a few tentative scenes. I fell for the idea even more.

Then, last week with the shiny new year matching my shiny new WIP, I sat down at the blank screen. I was scared, like I said, but I was still in love. And now I had a folder full of research and photos by my side to help me along the way. I still worried. What if I can’t actually write any words?It’s a new genre, after all—YA historical fantasy.

But as my fingers hit the keys, my mind started spinning. Before I knew it I slipped into the zone. When I looked up two hour had passed, and I’d written over 2000 words. I breathed a sigh of relief. The next day another 2000. The day after, I incorporated the scenes I’d “pre-written,” and that brought my word count to almost 6000. Yesterday another 300 words (hey, it was the weekend and MEH was home).

So, here I go. I’m on my way. And more than that, I know. I know I will be able to do this. It’s happening again. I’m in the zone. E&F lives and breathes in my head, demanding my attention all day, every day. I can’t wait to get to it every morning.

I’m remembering the thrill and embracing the blank page.

What about you? Do you worry when you face the blank page of a brand new WIP? How do you get back in the writing zone? How do you embrace the blank page?

Cheers,

Julia

Comments

  1. Like you, Julia, I experience both nervousness and excitement at the prospect of the blank page. I guess I just charge ahead. That’s the fun part of the first draft. You can just write and write and write and tell yourself, ‘Oh, I’ll worry about that during editing.’ Of course, NOW, I’m in editing mode and dealing with all my ‘Oh, I’ll worry about that laters.’ A different kind of nervousness and excitement. 🙂 Good luck! (I know you’ll be fine.)

    • I’m glad you understand, Dina, and I know what you mean about the different nervousness with editing. And I think that was part of it for me — I was actually really into and actually enjoying that other nervousness and excitement! So I know exactly what you mean! You put it so well: “I guess I just charge ahead.” YES! That’s it! Good luck with the edits, too (I know you’ll be fine, too). And I’m not gonna lie, I’m a little envious 🙂

  2. JmM Merchant says:

    Massive congratulations Julia, both on completing the edits with another idea raging around your head, and on conquering the blank page.

    I don’t have a blank page to conquer, just the nay-sayer at the back of my head that keeps tugging me out of the writing zone. He needs a good stamping on.

  3. I’m so happy for you that you finished your edits (GREAT story) and that you’ve managed to work on your new idea at the same time. I’m ashamed to admit that I’m envious of your amazing output over the last week. I write very slowly and I tend to let life get in the way of my work. It sounds as though I need to listen to my own advice and make a few promises to myself. You’re an inspiration. Kudos to you!

    • You give great advice, Shary — and certainly inspired me the last few months — so I’ll be very happy if I can pay you back a little and inspire you! Life does get in the way for me, too, so I know what you mean. I definitely struggle with that piece of it, too. Thank you for your support and encouragement… now it’s my turn to encourage you. I’m rooting for you!

  4. I LOVE the blank page. It represents so much possibility and is the giddiest time for me with my fiction. Edits and revision, on the other hand, are not something I enjoy, even remotely – even though I fully understand their value and importance. When I sit down to revise is when I get shaking hands (the dread, the fear of making things WORSE). And unlike others who write the first draft fast and furious, I can’t bring myself to do it, knowing the edits will be THAT MUCH harder! ; -) So – no, blank pages and the creativity they represent are my friends!

    So impressed with all you’ve accomplished, Julia. 2013 is your year!

    • Thank you for your kind words, Melissa. I hope 2013 turns out to be a great writing year — for both of us! I’m sorry you dread the edits, but you are VERY WISE to know that fast and furious can lead to a that much harder editing process. I learned that with my last WIP. As for loving the blank page… that’s awesome that you do. It takes me a one or two days to remember I love that thrill. Here’s to a year of conquering our fears and enjoying the thrill of the writing ride!

  5. E.J. Wesley says:

    It’s always different for me. Sometimes I fear starting, but that usually goes away after the first paragraph or two. Truthfully, I struggle much more with middles than beginnings. 🙂

    • I know what you mean, E.J. — it IS always different…one of the exciting things about life as a writer! As for the part that I struggle with most, I think it’s the end. Even if I have the end in my mind, it always feels trite. So here’s to you conquering middles and me conquering ends (oh and beginnings and middles…wait a minute…)

  6. Yay for you Julia. I most definitely have fear of the blank page. Especially if it is starting a draft of something for a deadline. Especially something I don’t have a clear idea of where I am going with the story or any excitement about the subject matter. But once I start, even if it is just a bad draft to get my thoughts organized, I do become involved in the outcome and my interest in the subject grows. I have to write to become engaged. Like a lot of things — if we act on something our heart will follow.

    • Thank you for your support and encouragement, Jamie. Ooooh, I know exactly what you mean about the deadline blank page. I’m just the same way… in fact, usually in those times, I put it off and put it off and then when I sit down it kind of pours out of me — are you like that? I love how you put it “if we act on something our hearts will follow.” Beautiful!

  7. Ann says:

    Good for you Julia! Finishing a project when a new one beckons takes a tremendous amount of discipline…you rock!

    I do have one silly, non-writer question tho….do you actually COUNT the words you write? …or does the computer do that for you?

    Hugs~
    Ann

    • Thank you for your kind words, my friend! It was weird for me to realize (a long time ago) that even though I was writing something of my own imagination, it STILL took discipline to get it down on paper. Why oh why can’t I simply think the story and have it written? Hmmmm…. great idea for a blog post, huh?

      NOT a silly question about word count. It might differ from software to software, but I use MS-Word to write, and the word count is displayed on the bottom bar of the page. Which is why I know that this blog post was exactly 547 words! (However, I remember the old days when I had to count the words… actually then I estimated a per page word count… which in case you were wondering is “generally considered” (by Google) to be 250 words!

  8. Barb Riley says:

    The blank page and I are total strangers, seeing as though I’ve been working on the same story for way longer than your past five stories put together. 🙁 But I DO love the excitement of it. Therefore I consider each new scene (as I write in Scrivener) a blank page. That is how I get my thrill—a little game I play with myself. LOL And you want to talk about worrying over a blank page? The last year has been one big blank page on my blog (which I FINALLY started again, btw). Ummm…. I guess this means I’m answering as Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. I both love AND hate the blank page!

    And WOOOOO HOOOOOO I love to hear these updates that you are going to self-publish. I am beyond excited to read your debut fiction, my friend! I’m smiling as I write b/c I just know I’m going to love storytelling á la Julia Munroe Martin style. 😀

    • Thank you for your kind encouragement and support, my friend!! I cannot WAIT to have you read what I write (wait, I also quake in my boots — if I had boots — thinking of people reading what I write!)!

      WHAT A GREAT IDEA to think of each scene as a blank page. That’s a great idea, Barb!! As for your blog? WOOHOO that you started again, and I know what I’ll be reading today. So excited!

  9. Never underestimate the power of a writer’s mind to circumnavigate a problem.
    Edits are overwhelming? Oooh, here’s a shiny idea for a new WIP!
    Staring at the blank page for too long? I’m sure there’s a rerun of Real Housewives on that you must watch now! (My personal fave.)

    It always amazes me how our brains can and will play these little tricks on us. 🙂

    Congrats on persevering and finishing the edits. I can’t wait to read your novel!

    • HAHAHA. EXACTLY, Jackie!! You really nailed the reason I did stick with the WIP. I outsmarted my own mind and finished the edits. I also can’t wait (and fear) you reading my novel. Of course I’m thrilled it will be out there but then it will be out there for all to read and that brings on its own set of problems as we know! (As you said, “never underestimate the power of a writer’s mind…” — which I think applies to MANY areas!) Thank you for your kind words 🙂

  10. Oh, the blank page! What a terror and what a joy! I’m so glad to hear it’s going well, and I’m so proud of you for finishing your edits. I struggle with the new and shiny allure myself! 😉

    • Terror and joy. EXACTLY, Jolina! I think that describes about 99% of my writing life (as I said to Jackie). Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. And, yes, the “new and shiny allure…” perfect words for it! Here’s to facing the struggle head on for a new wonderful year!

  11. Erika Marks says:

    Julia, so much news in here!! (I’ve DMed you about some of it!;))

    Oh the dreaded blank page. I definitely crave it but I am also guilty of looking for distraction when I reach a point of challenge in a current WIP (as I am now, Gah…)

    Of course the blank page also always begs the opportunity for Plotting or Pantsing. I always think THIS might be the WIP I sit down and outline!

    • Ah, the plotting vs. pantsing question… interesting you’d bring that up because it always happens differently for me. This new WIP I have just written down a bare bones outline (before I started I had nothing!) which is very differnt than the last one which had a detailed (20 page!) outline before I wrote a word!

      I love the way you put this: “Oh the dreaded page. I definitely crave it but…” So well put! Here’s to breakthroughs with blank pages and points of challenges, my friend. Thank you for your support, always.

  12. The blank page gives me butterflies in my stomach. Most of the time, they are good ones. 🙂

  13. I’m so excited for you Julia! I feel EXACTLY the same way every time I face the blank page, and always, the only way to calm the nerves and replace it with hope is to write. Each word proves the fear wrong, and soon you have 6000 words (go you!) and you’re so invigorated by it and so amazed that the pages that were once blank are filled with the seeds of a story…and that’s the magic of it, isn’t it?

    And wow, what powerful words of advice from Shary. “Promise yourself you’ll go back to it.” I love that.

    • Yes, Shary’s words were incredibly empowering. I feel so very fortunate to have such wonderful and encouraging writer friends! As for the seeds of the story filling the page… yes, it does feel like magic at times! Glad you can understand 🙂

  14. The blank page is intimidating, no doubt about it, Julia. (Though it can be exciting too!) What helps me get past it is the thought that I don’t have to show it to anyone. You have written how many novels now? Four? Five? Six? Does this mean that feeling never goes away? I was so hoping it did. I don’t remember having it with the short stories and novellas. I don’t even remember having it when I began my present novel (yes, still working on the first!) though I clearly felt it by the middle.

    I do feel it for this next one. Gulp.

    • The first line of your comment sums it up for me, too, Cynthia! Oh man, how many novels have I written? 1 picture book, 1 early reader, 3 MG, 2 Adult = 7. Wow. I’m starting my 8th and 9th WIPs!? Yikes. No, the feeling hasn’t gone away for me but it does go away more quickly once I start. And I don’t feel it with short stories or short creative nonfiction, either…

      Here’s to feeling *and enjoying feeling* that thrill 🙂

  15. Annie says:

    How incredibly exciting! Congrats on finishing your old project as well as a booming start to the new. I’m pacing in front of the blank page now, knowing I should tackle it in the next few days, but I admit I’m afraid too. It’s hard to come back from working so long away from drafting and face a new project, but it’s always worth it!

    • Thank you so much, Annie! It’s nice to know I have company with the blank page… I know exactly what you mean, it really is hard to come back “from the other side” (okay, revisions) and face the blank page!! Glad you understand. Let me know how it goes!

  16. artistsroad says:

    So great to see you’re inspired, Julia. And I know Shary only by her blog, and she’s great.

    I notice you present the revision/new as an either/or. Have you attempted to work on a new work simultaneously with editing a written one?

    • So glad you asked that, Patrick. With the edits in their final stages on the book I’m self publishing, I will likely do just that once I get feedback from the editor I’m working with. As for my two new WIPs, I’ll write one while planning the other and may well try writing both during the same time frame. Do you write two pieces at the same time and/or edit one while writing another? I’d love to hear about it!

  17. Nancy Kelley says:

    I have the hardest time getting back into writing mode after editing for a while. It’s hard to say, “Just write–you can come back and fix it later!” when you know exactly how much work you’re leaving for later. Last year during NaNoWriMo (the year I was publishing His Good Opinion in the same month), I went almost a week before I got caught up on word count. The first three days, my wc was 0. This year, I struggled again for the first week or so, so much that it disturbed my regular Wrimo. She didn’t feel good until I started giggling in glee over the new MS.

    Next week, I get to jump back in the editing pond on that NaNo novel, and I am so excited. The book follows characters I developed in Loving Miss Darcy, and I keep getting anxious requests from readers wanting more of Sebastian and Kitty.

    Happy writing to us both!

    • You are a busy, busy writer (and editor). Impressive! And we’re both on the same page (sorry I couldn’t resist) with having a tough time getting back into writing mode with the blank page! You described the feelings perfectly. So exciting that you’re moving back to editing next week! Have fun!

  18. Rachael Dahl says:

    The first blank page doesn’t scare me. It’s about page one hundred where I freak because it’s close to the middle of the book and the part, for me, that is the hardest to write. This is where all of the self doubt comes into play and it tells me that I’m a hack and the next 100 pages will be crap so I might as well not write them.

    • I can relate to this! On any given day (like yesterday, for example) I may feel like a hack, but for me it doesn’t seem connected to any particular place in the book. I’m sorry you feel self doubt in the middle… here’s hoping we’ll be able to put a lid on that inner critic! Thanks for your comment and especially for your visit to my blog, nice to meet you Rachael!

  19. Rachael Dal says:

    Thanks. And congrats on finishing Desired to Death. It’ll be interesting to read about its up coming journey.

  20. Nina says:

    I am terrible in the face of the blank page–for a blog post, a thank you note–ANYTHING.

    That Shary is good . . .

    • Yes, Shary gives amazing advice, I agree. Glad to hear I’m not the only one… (sorry it’s taken me so long to reply, apparently Blogger is having *more* issues with commenting, and I just received notification… grrr!)

  21. Congratulations on finishing your book. I can’t wait to read it. Are you going to publish it in POD and e-books?

  22. Lisa Ahn says:

    Your process always inspires me, Julia! Congrats on finishing your edits and on your new writing adventure. The zone is great, isn’t it? I definitely battle against blank page syndrome. I’m much better when I have something to revise. Getting the initial stuff on the page is more difficult for me because it is not pretty or shiny! (ah, the terrible truth. I should live in My Little Pony Land, shouldn’t I?)

    • I’m glad I can inspire you, Lisa… I feel like I’m out of control at times and desperately in need of a schedule, so it’s nice to have others along to see the positive! And the truth is, we should all live in My Little Pony Land. Problems are so manageable and contained. 🙂

  23. So exciting Julia. I hover between terror and joy on a daily basis. I can’t wait to read anything you write.

    • “…hover between terror and joy on a daily basis.” Yes, that sums it up, Lisa! I can’t wait for you to read what I’ve written (although, that entails its own certain terror… the feedback… eeeks!)

  24. I have alllll the same feelings as you, Julia. I love a new idea, but as Shary said, I do kind of double check that I am in a position to go ahead with it. If I feel I’m not, I start a notebook or computer document of ideas for ‘the new idea’ and keep those ticking over while I finish the current project. That way I get to do both at once! Loads of luck with the new project – it sounds fab!

    • I do the exact same thing as you do, Abi! I have a notebook and folder of ideas for each thing I think of writing. It’s so fun to think of the “what ifs.” It’s also fun to look back over the years of ideas (all stashed in a drawer)… all the stories in my mind. Yikes. Glad you like the story idea! And thank you for the writerly support 🙂