The book in your head is the perfect book. It's much better than any of the books you've read, because you know how you would fix all those amateur mistakes, those plot holes, that clunky dialogue. The book in your head will win every prize, will get rave reviews, will sell hundreds of thousands of copies.
First, pull out a large piece of drafting paper. You're going to use it as a map. You will be amazed at how much more easily your ideas will coalesce if you see them visually. Virginia Woolf once compared this process to fishing. You throw a line in the river and wait to see what comes. And there is a certain patience involved in storytelling or making an argument. I call it trusting the process. If you are still daunted by the blank page, dictate your most interesting scene into a tape recorder. You can do the same thing with your three main points.The beauty of the tape recorder is that it skips over the inner critic and lets you blurt out what you're interested in writing
We both know that if an expert looked over these lines, she would not be fooled for a moment. She would see all of my work and she would ask me where my voice went. And I would wave my hands like an air-traffic controller and say: Hey! Hello! I'm right over here!
I suspect most great writers are also terrible writers. It all depends what you show people. I think this is the key to beating the empty screen. Because it's the pressure that kills, right? The urge to write the next great novel, or make a boatload of money with scandalous, (un)literary smut, or prove what a deep, deep thinker you are. The pressure is too consistent to ever get anything done. So, yield to mediocrity, accept that the next word you write is likely going to be the wrong word and keep going anyway. The real worst case scenario isn't that you might write something bad. The worst case scenario is that you might write nothing at all.
This week was so full of disillusioning news that it was hard to keep an optimistic outlook. In Belize, thousands of years of history were razed when one of the country's largest Mayan pyramids was bulldozed. In Toronto, Gawker and The Toronto Star published details of a video alleged to show the city's mayor, Rob Ford, inhaling from what two Star reporters who saw the video say "appears to be a glass crack pipe." Meanwhile, in Ottawa, expense scandals led to Senators Pamela Wallin and Mike Duffy leaving the Conservative caucus. What's a defeated HuffPost reader to do?
The best way to deal with a blank page (or blank screen) is to simply not have one. Asking how one deals with a blank page is a bit like asking how one deals with an Ed Hardy thumb ring or a pinstriped fedora. Just avoid that whole landmine by not ever having one. It helps to have a backlog of ideas -- more ideas that you could ever possibly need or turn into finished stories. I keep a text file of half-baked ideas to develop should I ever get some spare time -- and some of them aren't half-bad. Be riddled with ideas. Sodden with them. So many ideas that you start to gag just in describing how many ideas you have.
When faced with the blank page or screen, I was a coward to the nth degree. Decades later, I still am. I might, in fact, be even more fearful now -- because experience has made me excruciatingly aware that the most intimidating, daunting, and unnerving material is typically the most vital to pursue. When, after years of abandoned starts, I recently started working with what is my most personally challenging material of all -- I can hardly bear to mention it here -- I found the blank screen and page had again bested me. In desperation, I have turned to cue cards. I write a sentence, fast, heart in my throat, and throw the card into a box.