The blank page. The cursor blinking, counting seconds, heartbeats. It’s intimidating as hell to stare down that white sheet and find the word with which to begin. Then the next one and the one after that.
I’d like to tell you it gets easier once you’ve written a book, or four, but it doesn’t. If anything, it gets worse. Take the book I’m working on now. (I’m the Henny Youngman of writing. Take my book—please!) I am stalling so badly on writing it that I’ve actually created a synopsis. I hate synopses! We all do. But even a synopsis is less terrifying than that empty page.
Writing must be the one profession in which the more you do it, the less you believe that you can. We’re a strange bunch but try to love us anyway.
To get myself going on this book, I’ve tried all sorts of tactics. Watching Chef’s Table isn’t working, nor is drinking wine. Not even cleaning out the closets is resulting in words on the page. So curious.
Yesterday, I was looking for a photo on my phone and happened upon this one:
That’s my vegetable garden before it had vegetables. South-facing and gently sloped, it was, before my beloved took the rototiller to it, simply part of a field. We added truckloads of compost, creating a blank canvas, and encircled it in electric fencing, to keep deer and groundhogs and rabbits from raiding it. A few months later, it looked like this:
These photos gave me an idea. What if I considered the blank page as a freshly dug plot, empty but overflowing with potential? The earth, the unplanted earth, is not blank. It is moist and rich with nutrients and life. (And weeds, sure, but I know how to pull weeds.) Tomorrow I’m going to open that word document and take a new look at the blank page. It’s not empty. It just hasn’t been planted yet. If I set down the words and tend to them, they will grow; it is the nature of both seeds and stories. So much of what they become is already present—in the soil, in the case of the garden, and in the writer, in the case of the story.
The page is not blank. It is simply waiting, like a field looking toward the Blue Ridge Mountains, patient under the sun.
Curious about how I designed the vegetable garden? Read all about it here.
Sonja Yoerg grew up in Stowe, Vermont, where she financed her college education by waitressing at the Trapp Family Lodge. She earned a Ph.D. in biological psychology from the University of California, Berkeley and wrote a nonfiction book about animal intelligence, Clever as a Fox(Bloomsbury USA, 2001). Her novels, House Broken (2015), Middle of Somewhere (2015), and All the Best People (2017), are published by Penguin/Berkley. Sonja lives with her husband in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
Thank you for this, Sonja! I read it as I sat in front of my blank page. And it does make sense! I loved the article and I covet your little piece of Heaven in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Oh, no! The dreaded blank page! In the end, it’s just important to start, however we can.
Thanks for stopping by and Happy thanksgiving to you and yours.
Sonja, I loved your analogy about the garden plot and your blank page. I can see from your garden that you are very careful and thorough on how you do things. I believe that your story will be there for you when you are ready to start. Some things cannot be rushed and books and gardens are two of them. Thank you for your stories❤️❤️❤️
Thank you so much for the encouragement! I am an impatient person and need to hear again and again to let the process take its own time. I’m grateful for your kindness and support. Happy Thanksgiving!