In my never-ending quest to reduce my writing process to a series of extended metaphors, I’ve begun to describe the blank page as a door, a door through which the story can be found. A big, fat door, locked up tight with a keyhole you can stare through, but you’ll only ever see glimpses of the world beyond.
As a writer, it’s your job to get through that door. All that stuff you see in your head only gains life when you get it down on the page. Until you fill that blank page, you’re not a writer but a dreamer, which is an admirable thing in itself but a completely different thing.
There are a number of ways you can through a locked door, the most simple of which is with a key.
The key, for me, is the perfect first line. That juicy line filled with voice and atmosphere that instantly transports you into a scene. You slip it in the keyhole and the door springs open, like it was just waiting for your touch. Much of the time, though, I have a whole keychain full of different keys, and I’ll try half a dozen out before I find the right one. This takes time. I can spend days musing on the perfect first line, days when I could be writing. It’s not always the perfect strategy, especially when you’re time-poor. In that case, you need something faster. You need to kick that baby down!
This is what some people call the Sh*tty First Draft method of writing. It works for a lot of people. It’s about just muscling in and getting down whatever comes into your head — all stuff you will need to fix later. It’s not pretty, but it works. It’s how I wrote my first book, but the longer I go on the less satisfying I find this method. I need something that doesn’t take days to get just a few words on the page, yet doesn’t leave a huge mess after I break down the door. One method I’ve found I like to call picking the lock.
Also known as freewriting. Awhile ago I was introduced to the concept of a working document. It’s a separate document in which you write about the story instead of just going ahead and muscling your way in, or sitting there daydreaming for hours. You write about what you’re trying to achieve in the scene, why you’re struggling with it, what you want the reader to know or not know. You write snippets of dialogue or description, character sketches and plot summaries. Whatever you want, as long as it is about your story and you are getting things down. It’s a way to sift through the stuff in your head, to slowly twist that lock until you find a way through. It’s slower than breaking down the door, but it’s quicker than sifting through a hundred keys.
Because, in the end, the blank page isn’t actually locked. It’s your brain that’s locked. It’s your own fear, your own internal editor, that is holding you back.
None of these methods are better or worse than the others, and there are other methods out there as well. It’s all about getting through the door to the story on the other side. It’s all about getting words on the page, fast and messy or slow and careful. It’s about tricking your brain, becoming a writer and not just a dreamer. It’s about finding what is right for you.
So, writer friends, I’m curious: How do you get through the door?