In praise of the blank page

June 22, 2020

Carol noticed a cobweb stuck to my shorts and opined it had formed naturally from a recent, lengthy stay on the couch. Today, I’m going to provide my most devoted readers with a peek behind the curtain of what a writer’s mind looks like when there isn’t an idea present anywhere near it.

I know what you’re thinking. Yesterday was Father’s Day, you fool. Wasn’t that an idea served up on a platter. You’ve been granted an entire day where nothing of duty or responsibility can be placed at your feet, and you came up with nothing to write about?

It happens.

Many writers seek out ideas like they’re on safari, stalking the big idea as if it were big game, while remaining keenly aware of every sound and movement that may be fraught with danger or opportunity. Then there are writers who are more like anemones that anchor in place and wait for the ideas, or food, to float by to grab with the least amount of effort.

Meet Reid the anemone.

I tried it the mature, professional way: making notes, keeping alphabetical index cards or simply stealing ideas from more established writers. Whether it was losing the notes or putting them through the permanent press cycle, forgetting what ideas were in the A or D or W sections of the index cards, or being threatened with plagiarism claims, none of these tried and true methods of idea development ever led to anything more than something wooden or contrived when rendered into column or blog form.

“They say genius is the ability to make something hard look easy. But what do you call it when someone can make something easy look hard?”

Now, starting out on an assigned writing day with no idea in mind is a bit of a high wire act. (FYI: Every day is an assigned writing day, but only two of seven wind up with anything to show for it. The other five are what Carol, uncharitably I might suggest, refers to as staring blankly at a wall collecting cobwebs.

This assumes the ideas I do wind up with are all good ones. My dearest and most intrepid readers will attest that even I don’t believe that. Yet, I confess to spiking several ideas that didn’t pass even my generously defined smell test. I can’t explain the difference between a good idea and a bad one. Its like the judge said of pornography: “I know it when I see it.”

They say genius is the ability to make something hard look easy. But what do you call it when someone can make something easy look hard? I produce a mere 1100 or so words per week, and consider myself a working writer. That includes the time spent revising and editing, where I correct and add spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and overuse punctuation, especially, commas,.

To my delight, I find I’m already approaching my minimum word count, without having stumbled upon anything worth writing about. I remember a high school classmate struggling to meet the 500-word minimum essay requirement putting a dot at the bottom of the page where he’d estimated the 500th word would be written, and just proceeded to write gibberish until his pen reached that dot. He got a C, as I remember it. I’m at 537 words now. What’s my grade?

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