Grace O'Connell will be appearing at Trinity Bellwoods Park on Saturday, June 22nd, from 12 - 4 pm at A Literary Picnic, part of Luminato Festival 2013. With the theme of "Beginnings" as inspiration, over 60 authors will take to three stages to share selections from their work and offer insight into where a story begins, and how writers confront the blank page. Many of the participating authors will also be setting up their own picnic blankets "backstage" for one-on-one exchanges with the public throughout the day.
On each Saturday leading up to the festivities, The Huffington Post has presented blog posts from selected authors on how they personally handle writing that daunting first word. Now, on the big day itself, we feature Grace's contribution. You'll find past entries here.
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. Because it is flawless.
The trouble is that the book in your head is not on the page. The page is blank. In your head, the book is a collection of ideas and maybe scenes that seem positively orgasmic when you are thinking about them, but somehow become flabby, flat, pedestrian narrative if you try to pry them out of your brain and smoosh them into actual words. The barrier between that perfect book and the page, the real book, is you.
And that's why we fear the blank page. Because the blank page is the thing that wants our perfect, imaginary book, to become a real, imperfect book. The blank page is an asshole, reminding us that we are not perfect writers once we actually start writing. Don't you know how good I could be, Page? How good I am in my head, when I don't really have to pin down the scenes and characters I'm imagining? Why do you have to keep reminding me that the writing that matters most is the writing I actually, you know, do?
But maybe that's why we should love the blank page. The blank page wants us to write. It wants our imperfect books -- it's calling out for them. Its very blankness is its declaration of love for our actual words. So maybe we should give the blank page a break and love it back a little bit.
So: Dr. Blanklove, or How to Stop Stalling and Love the Page:
-Accept that the moment you start writing, you have screwed up your book (George Orwell already said this better when he said "Every book is a failure").
-Decide you'd rather have a book that exists and isn't perfect than a book that is perfect but never actually gets written.
-Just start. If you know it's going to be imperfect from the first word, why be frozen by a fear of getting it wrong. Spoiler: you are going to get it wrong, at least a little bit. But it might be pretty damn awesome, even if it's not perfect. Every book I've ever loved (and that you've ever loved) was imperfect. Every book that changed the world was imperfect. Because the only perfect books are the ones that only exist in theory.
-Try not to edit too much as you go along. If your early bits get too polished, new work that you add to a long project will look worse by comparison, and you might get discouraged. If you can stay your editorial hand for a little bit, you might find the process easier. Every writer has a different "critical mass" they need to get to before a project feels like a real thing, a tipping point where they can feel it is going to happen, going to become an actual full draft at some point. Try to get at least halfway there before you start editing on a sentence level.
-And maybe, just maybe, dredge up a bit of mercy for any books you might have scoffed at, the easy fixes you've crowed about while reading. Because at least that writer, with his or her imperfect book, tackled the blank page and wrote that flawed, imperfect, and possibly still completely fantastic book.
Instead of despairing when you see the blank page, try smiling. "Oh you," you might say, blushing a little, as the page winks its cursor at you. "I know you want my words. And I'm going to word you up all night long, my dear."
And then -- and here is the most important step of all -- start writing.
Grace O'Connell is the author of Magnified World, which was named a Globe and Mail Best Book for 2012. She serves as the Associate Editor for Taddle Creek magazine, Books Columnist for THIS Magazine and Contributing Editor for Open Book: Toronto. Visit her online at www.graceoconnell.com