I heard Twyla Tharp say that to begin a new work of choreography, she enters a “white room.” Certainly, this is a metaphor, although a dancer’s creative space is likely an actual room/studio. But for writers, the white room is the blank page. Sitting in front of that blankness and typing in page 1 can be an awesome moment. That is, awesome derived from awe, meaning filled with wonder and fear, and yes, it’s the same awe that devolved into awful.
For me, that moment goes something like this: I wonder what the heck I’m going to write on that blank page and fear I won’t live long enough to finish an actual novel!
But here’s to writers who choose to put themselves in front of that blank page. If you’ve done it, congratulate yourself. Because you’ve passed a writer’s first test. Think of the people you know who plan to write a novel or work of fiction, those friends and acquaintances who talk about this “great idea” and how one day, when they have time, they will…. Well, you know. We’ve all met those folks.
For those of us who actually sit down to begin a creative piece, it’s important to tell ourselves that although the page may be blank, our minds aren’t. Before we type in that page 1, we’ve done a lot of thinking about characters and story—we may have sketched out ideas or put together an outline, researched background and information we want to use. But after all of that, we still have to put something on that blank page.
It’s easier to think about writing than actually writing.
For me, writing a long work of fiction is like hiking ten miles. You take one step and then one more step, sometimes you move quickly, sometimes stop and rest. But you won’t reach the end until you’ve taken all the steps. That makes the first step, the first sentence or paragraph all that more important. I like to start with a strong opening sentence that will lead to a second sentence and possibly a page or two. After many more pages, I may find myself unhappy with that first sentence or page. But I’ve started, taken the plunge. I can always can rewrite the beginning later.
In my first draft of Absolution, I started with this sentence: “My grandfather could listen to the train whistle and know it was going to rain.” I really liked that sentence, but if you’ve read the novel, you won’t find a grandfather or train whistle in it. Nor a first person narrator. But the importance of that sentence was that it got me going.
Once you’ve begun a creative piece, the next test is to keep at it, keep yourself in the white room or for a writer in the chair. But that’s for another post.