Thursday, March 24, 2011

Blank Page Removal, My Speciality

I make my living as a writer, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest reason people hire me is not because they admire my unique ability to string subjects and predicates together. Truth is, my customers are afraid, and they’re all afraid of the same thing -- blank pages. 

Even those who are possessed with overly healthy egos, who see themselves as bold captains of industry, become suddenly timid when it’s time to  pick up the pen or start clacking away on the laptop. All that white space freezes up the brain. That 's fortuitous for me, since I've got a steady gig at being the one who’s willing to get it all down on paper, whatever “it” happens to be.

I’m happy to oblige. Hiring me means that one less reader in the world will encounter a document that begins with “Webster’s defines “presentation” as …” or “Have you ever noticed how hard it is to write a first sentence?” I can’t promise you Pulitzer-prize winning prose, but I promise to avoid Webster’s definitions and rhetorical questions, so that pretty much pays for itself right there.

Once I’ve filled up a few reams of bond and sent out the words for review, of course, then everyone suddenly returns to knights-in-armor levels of bravery. If there are words already on a page, there is nothing to fear, so opinions can be formed, comment boxes added at will, and arguments about the advisability of ending sentences with prepositions can begin in earnest.

I never mind accepting edits, and I’m sanguine when receiving criticisms of style, grammar or general worldview. For someone with an exceedingly thin skin in private life, I remain unruffled when a customer wants to kill a word, a paragraph or a story. I understand very clearly that I’m a hired gun, and I’ll shoot wherever you want me to aim, even if, sometimes, it might feel as if I’m shooting myself in the foot. 

The reason for this critical nonchalance is rooted in my sympathy for how hard it is to get started, and how easy it is to correct. I’ve struggled with the frozen brain brought on by the blank page many times, but I’ve conquered it by allowing myself the indulgence of a rotten first  draft. It sounds simplistic, but, when it’s time to get to work, I write. By that I mean I write anything that’s on topic, no matter how awful. Then I let that heap of words marinate overnight. The next day, I set about trying  to find what’s worthwhile in the muck. It’s not a perfect system, but it keeps me from freezing to death, intellectually speaking, so I’m happy.

I was working on a project once with someone who had an elaborate classification system for types of writers.  I forget the whole list, but I know he included “storytellers,” “convincers” and “entertainers” in his lineup.  Then he asked me which sort of writer I was. “The sense-maker,” I said, “the one you never, ever notice.” 

He didn’t like that answer, I know, because it lacked the swagger that so many creative types seem to affect. The minute I said it, though, I knew it was true.  I aim for writing that is so clear and sensible that it seems impossible for the thoughts to have been created by a person, and more as if they just sprang up because it was time for them to be seen, like the daffodils in May.

I accepted long ago that everybody’s a critic.  I have a feeling that we humans have been that way since our paleolithic cave painting days. I’m just glad I get to be the one who slips into the cave while everyone else is still standing around, who makes those first marks on the cold, blank wall. And if everyone streams in after me to suggest that I’ll need a few more changes to get it right, I never really mind. I got to be there first, and that always makes me happy.

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