What to Do When the Blank Page Unhinges You

A film still of Gandalf the Grey from LOTR at the point where he faces off with a Balrog and shouts: You Shall Not Pass! We see his head and torso and two staffs that he's holding aloft.

After several years and a couple of false starts, I’ve finally broken the seal and started the screenplay. Egads!

I’ve somehow slowly made my way through Act One over the last fortnight. It’s very rough but it exists. It’s there on the screen in black and white. Words. Characters talking. Action. The slow birth of a story. I’m even moving into Act Two (!) and having an easier time of it now I’ve started.

But it was weirdly tough to begin.

I was surprised to find myself paralysed in front of the blank screen. What a cliché. I have little time to be paralysed. I have a few moments to write in amongst the rest of life and there’s no flaming time to waste on emotional problems.

Question: So, how do you focus on writing when there are a hundred things to do and so many other thoughts crowding your brain?

Answer: Morning Pages

There’s an exercise by Julia Cameron, renowned writing teacher and author, called Morning Pages.

Essentially, it’s the practice of pen in hand, stream of consciousness writing, often done first thing in the morning to clear your mind of dross. There’s no wrong way to do it, you just show up and blurt out on the page.

I used to do them religiously. These days I can neither do them in the morning nor by hand. As I may have mentioned, time is not my friend and mornings are crammed full of small boys. And handwriting! I used to take pride in it at school, spending ages making it just so, delighting in the symmetry and neatness. Now my handwriting has degraded to such a point that my partner has to get me to decipher the shopping list and even then I don’t really know what I’m reading.

Anyway, when I was seriously considering punching myself in the face I remembered Morning Pages and just typed whatever came into my head. It wasn’t long-hand, it wasn’t in the morning, but it was wondrous.

Within a few paragraphs I was unblocked and writing.

You write anything. Anything at all. You write that you’re still hungry even though you had quite a few rounds of toast half an hour ago. You write about how you’ve chosen the wrong underwear today and it’s riding up places you’d rather it didn’t. It can be self-pitying, rude, mundane, badly written – you get the picture.

And apparently it’s not just writers who benefit. Anyone who wants to clear their head and purge their unhelpful brain offerings can do it.

A Glimpse into My Weirdness

Here are a few extracts of my pages à la Adrian Mole:

4th April 

This is fucking ridiculous. I’ve done all this work and I can’t write!!! What’s going on? I took too long with the damn board. Why didn’t I just start writing straight away? That’s how the “creatives” do it. Arsebag Snyder and his industry advice.

I think I know my screenplay characters, and then I don’t. How can I write about people I’ve never been?

GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH

I’m skirting around writing the first part like you wouldn’t believe. Like it’s a physical barrier. And I want to blog about that. But the blog is not the screenplay. And I’ve got to do some lunges and squats because baby weight. Or, more likely, just eaten-a-lot-more-than-I-should-for-the-past-16-months weight. Ooh but look at that, I actually have an idea…

11th April 

So here I am again, wrestling with the page and wondering what on earth I’m doing and why this isn’t easier. Why didn’t I write this years ago when things were easier??

Someone wanted advice on the Britain’s Parents of Twins Facebook page and I had the answer! But then so did 35 other people and I still felt the need to add my own thoughts.

I believe in this idea. I know I want to do this. I have to just give myself permission to be crap, write anyway and edit it later. It doesn’t have to be anywhere near as good as Girls. Ah life… Lena Dunham. She’s such a talented writer. I hate her. First drafts are meant to be shit. It’s OK. Starting is good, continuing is better and finishing is the goal. I just need to sit with my screenplay girls… ah here it is…

12th April

Here I am again, watching videos of the first queer Pride in Lucknow (fabulous) and the first autistic character in Sesame Street (awesome) and then a snake entering an internet café, interspersed with Sean Spicer’s pathetic stuttering comments about Hitler. All (perhaps except for the snake) worthy news. I needed to know about Pride and Julia (the new autistic character). What if one of my boys has autism? Or someone I know.

So then I Google symptoms and before I know it, I’ve spread what little was left of my morning energy over so many different topics that there’s little left to scrape over my screenplay bread. Is that an appalling analogy? Is analogy even the right word? No, probably metaphor. So I Google that. And analogies are both metaphors and similes. How did I not know that? Holy lord, should I even be writing anything?

I get a coffee and sit back down. Only to check my social media feeds again… But now, here I am. And I’m going to write about Stacey in her factory…

There you have it. The thoughts of the struggling writer written out for you. It’s working for me. Let me know if it works for you.

x

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