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(Coffee) Shop Talk

Welcome to the shop where I talk about things that go well with coffee, which is almost everything.

I feel that every thing I read about writing or writers or “the writing process” inevitably mentions how traumatic it is to stare at a blank page. The sentiment of these writers seems to be, “Discipline is important, and it is defined by the ability to face down a blank page every day.” Or, “You might think that it’s fun to spend five hours a day doing what you truly want to do, then spend the rest of the day doing whatever the hell else you want to do, but if you think that, you’ve clearly never sweated over a blank page.”

Now I would like to respectfully disagree.

I have never had a problem with a blank page. In fact, I love them. Blank pages tie for my favorite things in the world, right next to pages that are covered with beautiful words arranged in a stunning order to convey stimulating thoughts. The best thing about a blank page is that you can do whatever you want with it. Hell, you can even draw pictures on a blank page if you want to. I frequently do. The second best thing is that the page may soon be covered with really solid, original prose that you can look back over later and say to yourself, “Damn, I wrote that? I’m a genius!”

No, blank pages do not trouble me as a writer. What I really have a problem with is pages that are already covered in crap. I’m not sure if it’s worse that it’s covered in my crap or someone else’s crap, but since we’re talking about the writing process I’ll stick to pages of my crap.

I’ve started at least three novels that I can remember off hand, and the reason why I’ve never finished any of them is because I got anywhere from 15 to 60-odd pages into them and realized that they were terrible.

My motive for writing isn’t that I’m driven to capture the human condition in words, or that I think that I have a lot of potential as a literary genius. I write because there are constant eruptions of crazy going on inside my head and I think that if I could record them properly then other people would find them just as amusing as I do. Like telling someone else about your interesting dream, but hopefully with a little more finesse.

Therefore, my problem as a writer does not come when I sit in front of my computer or notebook (or paper towel or used envelope or backside of old Google directions, as the case may be). The problem comes when I go back to what used to be a clean sheet of pure potential and realize that I have managed to create at least three plot holes without even having a real plot. I further realize that my narrative voice is about as consistent as late-night subway trains and that I would need eight pages of exposition for the reader to understand what’s going on in pages 1-5.

Paragraphs are not pieces of clay. They are not fun to poke and squeeze into different shapes. If I try to poke or squeeze or reposition or even expand them, they will burst or not fit or curl up and scream at me that they’ve had enough already. I usually find that the more I try to edit something, the worse it gets. I change one thing which causes two other things to be out of place, and by the time I’ve added all the appropriate background information the flow and rhythm of the piece is destroyed. This could mean that I am as yet unskilled at transferring things from my head to that beautiful blank page, or it could mean that the things in my head are just silly to start with. It’s hard to determine that sort of thing. I do sometimes, eventually, get an essay or short story ironed out and ready to go, but by that point…well, let’s just say that I would define writerly discipline as the ability to keep pummeling an ornery rough draft until it gives up and does what I want.

In conclusion, I think that before a writer complains about a blank page, she should think of two things:

A) That complaint is the biggest dead horse in the world and you should be somehow punished for beating it yet again,

and

B) Would you rather crap in a clean toilet or clean a dirty toilet? That’s what I thought. So stop whining and start crapping.

This piece is intended for humor; please take my rantings with a grain of salt.

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