It's All Fun and Games

One of the roadblocks I hear authors discuss time and time again is the fear of the blank page. Whether it’s the first sheet in a brand new notebook or the cursor blinking on the white screen, there’s something about getting started that feels particularly paralyzing.

At a recent Writers League of Texas panel, authors Jardine Libaire, Doug Dorst, and ire’ne lara silva offered a fresh approach to that blank page. It boiled down to this:

Stop Taking Yourself So Seriously

Dorst pointed out that the compulsion when we sit down to begin a new writing project is to pump ourselves up with big expectations:

This is the year!

I’m finally going to write a bestseller!

This novel will launch my career!

Don’t get me wrong—those aspirations are incredible. But by telling ourselves everything is riding on what we do with that blank page, aren’t we putting just a little undue pressure on ourselves to come out swinging? What if, Dorst suggested, we quiet those pep talks a little bit: I’m going to sit down today and write some words.

Libaire expanded on Dorst’s point of view: “I’ve heard it said that the first thirty pages of any project are just a writer clearing his throat.” Keeping that in mind, she suggested, gives us the freedom to play as we’re getting started, feeling our way into the tone and voice of the project without the pressure to create publication-ready pages.

And ire’ne lara silva agreed, too, giving perhaps the most pragmatic advice:

“Just get to it. Don’t build that fantasy in your head, because it’s never going to happen. Get to the words.”

So we’re agreed. We’ll stop taking ourselves so seriously when we sit down to write. But what does that mean, exactly?

Allow Yourself to Play Games on the Page

What does it take to shift your focus from the pressure of perfection to the fun and craft of writing? Allow yourself to let go. Handwrite in a crazy-colored pen or a silly font if it makes you feel lighter. Free associate, allowing yourself to write whatever comes to mind about your fledgling story.

Dorst even suggested playing word games with yourself just to get the writing muscles moving. Try to write a first line that uses all twenty-six letters, choose a random word from the dictionary and incorporate it into your first paragraph, or choose a rhythm you like and write to it.

After All, You’re Just Getting Started

As writers, said Libaire, we’re always holding two ideas side-by-side:

“This doesn’t matter”

“This matters more than anything else.”

And both are true.

Your writing matters more than anything because it is the vehicle through which you’ve been given the power to tell your most important stories. In all the planning and research you did before you sat down to write, you honored that. As you craft your first and second and third drafts, as you work with your editors and publishers, and as you share your finished story with the world, you’ll honor that.

But when you’re facing the blank page, the best way to honor that is by releasing that pressure, reminding yourself that writing should be fun and joyful, and letting yourself play.

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