A New Way To View A Blank Page

Monday, August 17, 2020

During my first year in middle school, I remember having a young female English teacher who'd ask us to write essays in class on whatever subject we wanted to at least twice a week. She'd put on classical music, tell us to take a sheet of paper out of our loose-leaf binder, sit at her desk with a book and wait for us to finish before she collected all of our essays, smiling proudly when she glanced at papers filled out front and back, or that needed a paper clip, which was usually me because my essays required at least three sheets of loose-leaf paper.

So many years later, what I appreciate most about this teacher was how she focused on nurturing and developing her student's diverse voices more than circling all of our grammatical errors in red. She was  one of a handful of English teachers I had who fostered this then budding writer's dream. She reinforced, this notion to me, that a blank page was nothing to be intimidated by. It was the perfect canvas for my words. 

I've tried to keep that in the forefront of my mind whenever I stare at one on my computer screen or in my notebook when I'm trying to plot a story. There have indeed been times when I can't conjure up those good writing vibes from my middle school English class and a blank page fills every crevice of my being with fear. But thankfully, it is only momentary. I don't have to wage war with it. It is my friend not my rival, as it is yours. It is your blank canvas and you are the painter who can create a masterpiece on it. Just look at the bodies of work you've already created that started with a blank page. 

Still, because we're human, and because Ms. Self Doubt likes to pop up every now and then and knock on our door, I offer these suggestions for times when you're feeling apprehensive about "tackling" a blank page. 

1.Take a deep breath and exhale. When we're anxious about doing something its reflected in us mentally and physically. Our breathing becomes shallow, our muscles tense and we may feel a sense of gloom even when it's something we're passionate about. As writers, when we first stare at a blank page, we can mentally scroll through a litany of doubts about our writing which further impedes our ability to write. By taking a deep breath and exhaling slowing, we center ourselves and calm our mind and body enough where we can shut down that negative voice buzzing in our ear.

2. Begin writing one word on an index card until you have a collection of word prompts. When you're at a standstill with a blank page, choose a word to write about. Maybe the word you choose is "Food." Oh, the possibilities. That word can trigger a nostalgic food memory from your childhood for your memoir, a step by step recipe that was passed down to you, or one you created during this pandemic that is rich with literary descriptions of aroma's, sounds, textures, and emotions for a scene with the protagonist in your novel. One suggestive word can bring a rush of several more.

3. Fill your blank page with a list. Lists are a great strategy to use when you're stymied about what to write or where to start. Creating a list of people, places, and things that hold some relevance to your life, even a to-do list can trigger a story idea. 

4. Write as if you're writing in your journal. Our journals are a welcoming quilt for our words without the pressure of judgement, ours or others. When we write in our journals we write freely without worrying about querying, or submitting, or whether an editor or publisher will accept our work. We throw caution to the wind and forget about the so called "rules" of writing. Try writing a characters dialogue as a journal entry to get into a writing groove. Sometimes we may need to view a blank page as a page in our journal to get a burst of inspiration. 


                                                                                                 -- Jeanine

Jeanine DeHoney's writing has been published online, and in several magazines and anthologies. She prides herself on being able to conquer the blank page at least seventy-five percent of the time with these tips and hopes she's made her middle school teacher proud. 


Theresa Boedeker said...

Love these ideas. When we let our mind wander and even write about something other than our current project we are feeding our creativity. Going for walks, reading, and sitting in my backyard are ways I nurture my creativity and bring forth ideas.

Joanne said...

This is such a lovely tribute to your teacher, and a meaningful gift made of that experience for other writers. Thank you.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Jeanine--First of all, do you know where your former teacher is? If she's still alive and you can track her down, it would mean the world to her to learn the impact she's had on your life. Teachers make a pittance (considering the hours they put in). They put up with lots of abuse from parents. A note or letter from a former student is worth more than gold.

I need to take a mental deep breath and then dive in. There's a couple of writing things I've put off during this pandemic... and I need to get off my rear and get busy.

Thanks for the post. And how is that book of yours coming along? ;)

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Thank you Theresa. Your ideas are also awesome ways to nurture creativity. I definitely should sit in my backyard more to have a serene place to think and get ideas to write about. Being surrounded by nature can inspire you.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Thanks Joanne and you're welcome. Great teachers often don't get the credit they deserve. There are so many who have inspired and positively changed the course of their students lives.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Sioux, unfortunately I don't know where my former middle school teacher is or whether she is still alive. I can only hope that during times she reminisced about teaching, she remembered me as a student who smiled in awe at her all the time and was enthused when she assigned essays and how she impacted my life for the better. And yes, Sioux, please take that mental deep breath and dive in. The world is waiting to read your work. As far as my book, its nearly finished but I too need to dive in more to get it to the finish line.

Renee Roberson said...

What a beautiful tribute to your teacher, Jeanine! Sometimes kids have such a fear over "open writing prompts" and I love the approach she took of not marking it up and only focusing on the positives. One day I asked my teen son to write down where he'd like to see himself in ten years and he got such a look of fear on his face. "Are you going to read it?" he asked. I replied, no, just to go where the exercise took him. I think he ended up enjoying using that as a prompt and felt freedom over his mom not looking at it with her red pen!

Cathy C. Hall said...

That was a wise teacher, instilling the joy of creating without judgement into her students while also giving herself a nice break FROM the students! :-)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

What an amazing tribute!

I sometimes prime the pumps by writing a poem. I'm not a poet. I don't market these poems and somehow that is freeing. This is just for me. Just to get things started.

And look! That page is no longer blank.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Thank-you Renee. That was a great idea to do with your teen son to help him just enjoy the act of writing.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Yes Cathy, she was a wise teacher and smart because she had a mini break to refuel for the next class. Teachers definitely need that.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Thank-you Sue. And you may indeed be a poet so I hope one day you submit them.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Jeanine ~ Your teacher gave you a great gift. :) The first draft is not the place for the red pen. It's funny, but when I see a blank page as an artist, I'm excited to have a clean canvas to work on because it holds so many possibilities. I wonder then, why as a writer, I don't feel the same thing?

I love the idea of one suggestive word, and I also like using prompts and timers, and frequently read a poem as inspiration. I try to write for myself because thinking about publishing is always a killer to my creativity. Since we're in the middle of a heat wave here in the Valley--it's been around 109 lately--I've been using repetitive tasks like folding laundry or doing dishes as a way to help my mind wander creatively.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Thank you Angela. A poem can certainly be a source of inspiration as well as the normal repetitive tasks we do everyday like washing dishes and folding laundry.

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