Never Start with a Blank Page

Recently I wrote about ‘The Gap’, Ira Glass’s iconic musing on the process of getting as good at your craft as you want to be. The headline was ‘why even try?’

The original headline was, ‘in which my dog gets headbutted by a giant.’

I was going to start the post telling a story from that morning. Boyfriend and I had taken our new pup Obi for a walk quite a bit further afield than we have ventured with him before.

(We still have to carry him, because his vaccinations aren’t finished, but we want him to get as used to the world as much as possible while he’s still little.)

We arrived one of our favourite markets to get coffees and some produce, and a big, excited poodle bolted out the door and barrelled right into me, headbutting Obi in the process.

It was quite a first encounter.

But that wasn’t actually the story I wanted to tell.

There’s no great lesson about writing or business from my dog being bowled over.

It didn’t matter though, because the story gave me a place to start, and THAT is the great lesson.

Having something to start with is the secret to writing something you’re really happy with.

When you start with a blank screen, there’s a lot of pressure riding on you to come up with a big, interesting idea right there on the spot.

Creativity rarely works like that.

For me, having something — anything — written down can be enough to get me rolling.

Mostly, because the thing I’ve written down is utter bullshit and I’m desperate to get rid of it before anyone looks at my screen over my shoulder.

But maybe more importantly, it takes the pressure off. It gives me something to push against, to start the thought process of,

“No — that’s boring. I don’t care about that. What do I care about right now? What’s something interesting I’ve heard in the last day or two? What’s my opinion about that?”

Answering those questions is how the real idea comes out.

And you know what? Nearly every professional writer I know does this in one way or another.

We never start with a blank page.

Whether we’re leaving a paragraph half-finished with a note to come back to it tomorrow, or scrawling out stream of consciousness for a few lines, or making a list of bullet points to start filling in…

When you start with something on the page, the battle is halfway done.