Fear of a Blank Canvas

Porcupine Tree wrote an album titled, Fear of a Blank Planet. It’s a terrific album that’s dark, intricate and thought-provoking, with a rather interesting title. This should strike a familiar chord (no pun intended) with writers of all nature, as the sight of a blank page-be it a word processing program or a sheet of paper- empty, lined, or checkered-is among the stuff nightmares are made of. Who am I to disagree?

Blank pages are our canvases, with endless possibilities abound. This would fill most with joy and excitement, but it isn’t until they actually sit down before them to work that their enthusiasm turns into fear, confusion, and pathological chin-scratching. That Tolkienesque universe that you’ve been carrying in your gut for years suddenly evaporates into thin air, along with every idea that would have given rise to what should’ve/could’ve/would’ve been your greatest creation, or even the literary equivalent of sliced bread.

Did you think you were going to blaze right through that term paper seven hours before due date and in the process come up with a groundbreaking theory that would not only net you an A-plus, but also some kind of award? “Think again, chump!” your computer taunts you as you stare blankly at the screen, waiting for inspiration to grace your somehow-functioning brain at that godless hour.

It’s a curse that everyone who writes is afflicted with, no matter who they are or how often they write. Like cancer there doesn’t seem to be a solid treatment for it in sight. Like fear, the strongest emotion we humans feel, it is gripping and serves only to deter and distract you from your creative endeavors.

But like cancer, again, there is hope-a cure, if you may, to this recurring ailment of the mind. The first thing to do would be to detach yourself from the pale-faced demon: just take a break, walk around town, listen to some music; do whatever it is you do to relax and find inspiration. One of the things my creative writing teacher told me that I think everyone should take to the grave is that inspiration doesn’t just flutter down from the heavens. It hits you when you’re usually in the middle of something, be it a shower, a piece of music, or acting like a monkey at a typewriter.

Another thing to know is that every good writer is a reader. From Mother Goose tales to the latest satirical blog post lampooning some event or another somewhere in the world, you are constantly drawing inspiration from previously written texts and spoken stories; not to mention taking preference to a certain style of writing and add your own touch to it.

There’s no limit to how much you can or should write, but it’s often best to keep things to a minimum. No, I’m not telling you to speak in single syllables. I’m referring to Grice’s four conversational maxims, namely those of quantity and manner. The devil may be in the details, but describing everything down to the most miniscule strand of tweed on a character’s jacket gives Ol’ Scratch more leeway to sabotage your masterpiece.

The creative process is fraught with stress and obstacles aplenty, but when overcome is one of the most rewarding aspects of the human experience. I’m not writing this as an authority on writing: these are a collection of observations I’ve made over the years through reading and conversations. After all, where else would art come from if not for real life?


About optimistthepessimist

Always in transit.
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