All writers face this terror at one time or the other: the blank page. What to write next when all that must be said has already been written, when the next chapter of revelation lies just out of reach. During these moments, the desire to write is propelled by the need for output, the sign that we have not dried up. The writer’s raison d’être, the imperative to record the results of reflection married to imagination, is forgotten in our temporary panic, and we write for the sake of writing.
Writing that does not inspire reflection in the reader is empty, wasteful, and a contribution to the flotsam that clogs libraries, bookstores and the internet, making everyone go away with diminishing returns. How many books were written because of a writer’s need to make money and nothing more, or because of a writer’s desire to convince himself that he can still do it? And how many readers fell for them? Fell for the story•boarded plot, the choreographed puzzle, the exotic setting conjured off Wikipedia and Google, the sentimentalist situation that tugged the heartstrings, and the “this could be me” identification manufactured by cleverly studied demographic archetypes. “Entertainments,” I call them. They make blockbuster movies.
Fear of the blank page may have driven writers to have written those entertainments in order to keep their muscles active until the “real stories” returned. But those potboilers are like drugs, blinding you with fame and money and keeping you churning them out until any real story is stillborn and your imagination is rendered sterile. For it is easy to tweak the formula, replace the villain, change the setting, and voila, more of the same, and another fat cheque hits the bank. But all the while, the writer is sinking deeper into a limbo that he cannot emerge from, and being typecast for posterity.
Where are the books that came from the writer’s reflections and learning from her own life, from close observations of people, and from that other source that we dare not question but what we have secretly come to admit as the “other side?” Where was the reproduction that came from the fusion of these sources of material with the writer’s vivid imagination?
I have come to respect the blank page. It informs me that the problem is not with me, but that there is a major job going on upstream, waiting to form into an intelligible form that could subsequently flow down to my pen. And the longer the blank page remains, the bigger the job heading my way. All I can do is still the mind, rest the hand, listen, and wait. And never let the blank page scare me.