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Resistance training

Facing – and embracing – our fear of the blank page.

An illustrated woman holds her hands up to her face to block out distractions and focus
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I am a writer who will go to great lengths to avoid facing the blank page. I’ll roll up my sleeves to begin a draft and suddenly remember my kitchen needs cleaned, my pantry alphabetized, my sock drawer reorganized. Or I’ll become suddenly, inexplicably obsessed with a research trail that has nothing to do with my current project. Now is the perfect time for a deep dive into theater lighting in the 18th century, my brain informs me. Or: These disturbing 1970s microwave cookbooks won’t read themselves! 

By the time I’m on my third microwaved lobster recipe, I’ve generally exhausted myself enough to face that the words won’t write themselves, either. I shut the book with a twang of dread in my belly and resume my staring contest with the blank cursor. After a few heart-stopping moments of blank-brained panic, eventually, the words come: Sometimes a sparse trickle, sometimes a steady stream, other times as fiery and violent as a river after the thaw. But every single time, I exit my draft feeling relieved to have written. I learn something new about myself, my subjects, or the English language every time I put pen to paper. I feel calmer, happier, less anxious, more at ease in my own mind. And I’m always so proud of the words that I’ve found.

I’ve been writing for decades. I’m no stranger to the release writing brings. I started wondering: Why did I still need to work up my courage before I could begin? Why hadn’t I learned by now that the words would always find their way to me after those first few terrifying moments of Blank Page Syndrome? 

I genuinely believed that this resistance would gradually ebb the more I wrote. I tried write-every-day challenges. I created outlines, took notes, tried pre-writing. I let my research rabbit holes become longer and deeper, so I felt more confident in my knowledge before I began. And I think they all helped, I really do: I felt my pre-page throat-clearing lessening as time wore on. But it never vanished altogether. 

And I was a fool for expecting it to. 

Because eventually, I realized my resistance isn’t something to get over before I could start my creative process: It is my creative process. The first step is to circle the page warily, keeping an eye out for any entry-points. The first hurdle is coaxing myself to the page. 

Writing is many things, but no one ever said it was easy. I should stop feeling shame for how long it takes me to approach my drafts and should start appreciating that I made it to the draft, period. Stop trying to vanquish my fear and instead celebrate that I still write despite it.

If you, too, ever feel shame at the lengths you go to avoid the page, know you aren’t alone. But remember, too, that there is nothing simple or straightforward about plunging into the depths of our minds and imaginations and reaping what we find there. Our writing approach may feel like a fearful and uncertain one, but as long as the end result is bold writing, who cares how we got there?

 

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