The White Page

May 31, 2007
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THE WHITE PAGE

by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro

June 2007

"No matter how much you’ve published, each time you start out,
you feel like a novice . . .
"
—Shapiro

What could set a writer’s heart pounding more than staring at a white page, worrying how to begin writing, what to say?

No matter how much you’ve published, each time you start out, you feel like a novice all over again. Nothing you’ve ever done before seems to help. In fact, former accomplishments may get in the way because you worry that you’ll never be able to write anything as good as the piece that you just received a Pushcart Prize for. (Wouldn’t that be grand?)

". . . forget the whole concept of good and bad writing, and just let yourself write.
—Shapiro

 

Anne Lamont in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions in Writing and Life (Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1995) urges writers to get comfortable with what she calls, the “shitty first draft.” You have to cut the editor out of your mind, forget the whole concept of good and bad writing, and just let yourself write.

“It’s like watching a Polaroid,” Anne tells us. “You can’t—and, in fact, you’re not supposed to know exactly what it looks like until it has finished developing.”

 

"Free Writing is a great way to begin. "
—Shapiro

But how do you shut off the inner editor? The voice of perfectionism? The nagging doubt that you have nothing more to say?

Free Writing is a great way to begin. Set a timer for, say, ten minutes and while it is ticking, write down whatever comes to mind, even “I can’t write a thing. I have nothing more to say. Who do I think I am anyway, Shakespeare? I’m bored.”

When your timer dings, you will either have written at least a sentence that you can develop into something or, at the very least, you will have gotten your negativity out of the way so that you can begin.

". . .the brain reacts differently when you write by hand than if you write by computer. "
—Shapiro

Meditative Writing is another way of tricking that inner editor, that spirit crusher. Get away from your computer. Turn on some music. (Mozart is said to increase IQ.) Turn off the lights. Light a candle and in a notebook, just let yourself write one word, then another, like chanting a mantra. Writing by candlelight discourages you from rereading too early and the music will help drown out the critical voice in your head. Also, the brain reacts differently when you write by hand than if you write by computer. It will link you to an earlier time in your life when you were a child, delighting in just writing a capital A on a page, your tongue flicking over your lips. Something more primitive, something gleaned from your subconscious may begin to flow.

"Digression can allow for greater
social commentary than
the bounds of the essay. . ."

—Shapiro

Making Lists—Don’t even try to write a story, poem, or essay. Just make lists such as People I Hate, The Worst Experience I Ever Had, The Worst Thing I Ever Bought, The Time I Almost Didn’t Make It, etc. Notice I only wrote negative things. Somehow, they tend to bring up much more passion. I highly recommend going as dark as you can.

Calling a friend to tell her a story and write it as you tell it. My dear friend, Marlene, has been my ear for this. It’s a wonderful way to get started. You have a real conversational tone going and you feel less “artsy,” less constricted. It’s just a phone call after all.

"Family and childhood is always
a gold mine of material. "

—Shapiro

Get out your oldest photo album. Family and childhood is always a gold mine of material.

Whatever trick you have to play on yourself to write, please do. The white page is begging for your words and will never make an unkind remark about anything you put on it in that ”shitty first draft.”  

About
Rochelle Jewel Shapiro
Rochelle Jewel Shapiro’s novel, Miriam the Medium, was nominated for the Harold U. Ribelow Award. She’s published essays in NYT (Lives) and Newsweek-My Turn, and in many anthologies such as It’s a Boy (Seal Press, 2005), The Imperfect Mom (Broadway Books, 2006) About What Was Lost (Plume Books, 2007.) Her poetry, short stories, and essays have appeared in many literary magazines such as The Iowa Review, Negative Capability, Moment, and in many anthologies such as Father (Pocket Books, 2000). The short story from that collection, "The Wild Russian," will be reprinted for educational testing purposes nationwide. She currently teaches "Writing the Personal Essay" at UCLA on-line and is a book critic for Kirkus. She can be reached at http://www.miriamthemedium.com/

 

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