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Location: Central Michigan, United States

Spent a long career making lots of money for other people. Now it's my turn. _____________________________ Email:

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Blank Page

Every morning I write during breakfast. I arrive early at the small diner with my pen and Doodle Pad. I sit down at my regular table, flip open the Doodle Pad, click open my pen and write. The wait-staff bring to me whatever it is they think I should eat for breakfast that day. The only consistent food in their morning menu for me is strong black coffee in a chipped mug.

It is an enjoyable start to the day, mine. Wonderful wait-staff who have become my friends, good food, and an overall happy atmosphere in which to scribble my words. They all start right there in that small town diner---the lines for my WIP, the “Bug Tails”, the sex snippets, the semi-violent scenes, the half-assed attempts at poetry……

Except this morning! Damn! This morning I flipped open my Doodle Pad, clicked open my pen, and my mind was as blank as the page. Nothing! No idea for a writing topic. None. Shit! I thought.

The opening-shift waitress, Tonya, apparently noticed my stare at the Doodle Pad. From across the room, she said, “What’s the matter, Erik? Run out of ideas?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “You got any? Give me a topic to write about.”

“Okay. Let me think about it for a few minutes”

Tonya told the kitchen staff what I’d have for breakfast, and then busied herself with the rest of her morning opening chores. I continued to stare at the blank page of my Doodle Pad. This is serious, I thought. I’m not getting burned-out am I?

Tonya refilled my coffee mug. I said, “Well?”

“I’m still thinking,” she said. “What do you want to write about?”

“If I knew that, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.”

“Well, I sure as hell don’t have any good ideas for you. Wait! I’ll go ask the cook.” Tonya turned away to go into the kitchen. I continued to look at the blank page and sip coffee. Damn, I didn’t like that blank-minded feeling at all.

Tonya returned from the kitchen. She had a smirk on her face.

“And?” I asked.

Tonya giggled. Then she said, “First, the cook said, ‘How the hell would I know what he should write about?’ Then she said to tell you to write about people screwing if you couldn’t think of anything else.” Tonya and I both laughed.

Tonya went to wait on a group of customers who had just walked into the diner. I continued to look at that blank page and eat my breakfast. Well, I thought, maybe tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow I’ll think of something to write about.

What do YOU do when the page in your Doodle Pad is blank…along with your mind?


Blogger EA Monroe said...

You're thinking too hard, Erik! ;]

I get the blank page, blank mind just looking at this "Leave your comment" box! The diner sounds like a great place to doddle, and even reading "The Blank Page," the diner, Tonya, Cook and the early morning bustle and diner aromas springs to life in my mind.

What do I do? Just start writing and see where the scribbles take me stream of conscious stuff. Or writing whatever I'm observing, including sensory input. More often, I sit and stare out the window and just write without thinking, but I prefer being outdoors listening to the wind while I scribble about nothing. Sometimes, I pick up the dictionary, open it to a random word. When confronting the blank page, the hardest part is that first $#%@ word!

11:51 AM EST  
Blogger Bernita said...

EA's advice is good.
I just go read something, anything.

12:15 PM EST  
Blogger ivan said...

This feeling-state is especially scary when you are contracted to produce for money, you are on a deadline, a week to go and you are dreaming of buttercups and strange mazes.
I was sent some CD's to review for a Toronto world-class folkloric group. "You are multi-cultural, said the director. You should do it as a labour of love.
"Sorry pal," I'd said. " Old Dr. Johnson says only a blockhead writes for nothing."
"How much?" asked the director.
I gave him a quote. "I will consider it."

So the great reviewer sits down, listens to the CD's on his computer, kind of likes the music he hadn't heard in 50 years, and attemts to write some liner notes to get going.
Ah, but he is trying too soon to show how good it is. He can't get past the first paragraph.

Then he attempts an overview of the production. Nothing.

This is a crisis. Pros don't get mental blocks. Pros get it done no matter what.

This is existential.

The writer has already produced some good stuff for the director for free, was hailed as a genius, and now, nothing. Blank screen syndrome. You are only as good as your last piece? They can't possibly accept this "The Quick Brown Fox" I'm chasing here!


Worms start to rise on my lawn.

Accusing worms.

Finally, through a kind of intellectual dishonesty,you go to Joni Mitchell's lyrics, borrow a bit of poetry and the review is done.
It is highly poetic for a review; it describes the production in terms of its poetry and meaning to the world, more or less ignoring the actual content.
You had cobbled your way through.

So you give it to the director.

Back comes the answer: "I am probably wrong, but this is more like poetry than a review. I won't be able to use it."


Then another note from the director: "You are such a good writer. You should love your culture, give us your work for nothing."
All that agony, all that clearing of mental blocks and it was the money!
There is a school of thought that says if you write for money you will get no money.
It wasn't so much not getting the money, it was the scary feeling of choking in the middle of a contract.
Did my mental block have anything to do with the premonition that the director was going to screw me no matter what?
Anyway, I found myself drinking a lot and doing parodies on Descartes: "I fail, therefore I am?"
Shorly after this, I was given another contract, by somebody else.
The job was don in half an hour.

Funny, that like a tree growing inside a barb wire fence, you ingest the barb, but it still stays in the tree, grown over, but a canker all the same.
There are days when I want to go back to nightclubs and sing kareoke for money. There, if you flub, you can sing your way right out of it.
Cold print can be a bitch.

10:25 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i think we writers like to think the writing comes to us like a loyal pet...upon command. sometimes we have to wait for it. go out and live some life...look at faces...feel the scenery...hear the music...find your soul. the writing never leaves. it will come again probably when you least expect it.

12:35 PM EST  
Anonymous spyscribbler said...

I just type. I'm a rhythm writer, so I tell myself that as long as I keep up the rhythm, I can type crap. Sometimes I write wholly unconnected sentences with big spaces in between. It's real crap, but it's easy enough to fill in the blanks and change the words the next day.

I'm terrified that if I stop, I won't get going again. So I don't stop, no matter what.

12:50 PM EST  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

You can always write a vivid description of someone or something around you. Not that you'll necessarily use it, but you never know... in studying the details you might find yourself asking, "What if?" and coming up with something you do want to write about.

6:48 PM EST  
Blogger normiekins said...

well, if i was sitting in the diner with you....we would just start talking.....about grass....and see where that took us.....beautiful meadows of flowers and sunshine and a picnic......then i would tell you how much i love eggs benedict and how much i love to cook....bug would be at our feet.....i would sneak bacon to him......then we would stream of conscious talk....i've been in marketing/advertising think tanks my whole life......just let it flow.....:), ;) sometimes the best ideas comes from NOTHING......kisses....

9:26 PM EST  
Blogger ivan said...

You never shut up with that stuff and giggle a lot.
Write humor?

11:34 AM EST  
Blogger Erik Ivan James said...

EA, thanks for the comments about the diner...that you could smell the food, see the people. That little diner is the setting for one of my WIP's.

What's San been up to? Bug has been a bit lethargic lately. Keeping a close eye on him.

12:42 PM EST  
Blogger Erik Ivan James said...

You've always given me good advice, Bernita, Dear Gal.

12:44 PM EST  
Blogger Erik Ivan James said...

"I think we writers like to think the writing comes to us like a loyal pet...upon command."

That's a great line, Meander.

12:46 PM EST  
Blogger Erik Ivan James said...

Thanks for stopping by, Spyscribbler. You are always welcome here.

You raise good points about "write anything...even crap."

12:50 PM EST  
Blogger Erik Ivan James said...

Excellent, Samdra. Not only does that generate ideas, it's good discipline.

12:52 PM EST  
Blogger Erik Ivan James said...

You are absolutely correct. Some of the very best ideas do come from little or nothing much.

Best eggs benedict anywhere...Royal York Hotel in Toronto. In my opinion.

Nah, ya can't feed Bug bacon. Then I'd have to keep it up. I don't cook in the morning.

12:58 PM EST  
Blogger Erik Ivan James said...

I can't sing.
Tried "grass" once. Even inhaled. Didn't do anything for me. Scotch worked much better.

12:59 PM EST  
Blogger EA Monroe said...

Halloo, Erik!
I hope Mr. Bug gets to feeling perky soon. He needs birds to chase. San's been sneakin' bacon and turkey and she sucked up the French Cat's food. She thinks that if she stands on her hind legs, dances a jig in a circle and barks, the doves perched on the highline wire will fly down and land in her mouth. Tonight, she rolled and rubbed in stinkie ambrosia. The French Cat had been out there earlier.

I meant to ask you, how do you get the HTML tags for italics to work in the comment box? I can never get them to cooperate!

San says to Bug, "Come outside and let's play chase. Betcha can't catch me!"

Someday, I would love to read your WIPs!

7:35 PM EST  
Blogger December Quinn said...

I agree with Sandra. Just write something. The rest will come.

7:55 AM EST  
Blogger Erik Ivan James said...

Type the following immediately before the words you want in italics:
immediately after those words.

Bug says to San, "Heh,heh...c'mon girl."

3:37 PM EST  
Blogger Erik Ivan James said...

Um...EA, my example for italics didn't work here, obviously. I need to think of a better way.

3:41 PM EST  
Blogger Erik Ivan James said...

Or, December, go and read yours for inspiration.

3:44 PM EST  
Blogger EA Monroe said...

Hey Erik. The invisible text you typed made italics. I'll give it another try --
testing123 How's that?

8:41 PM EST  
Blogger EA Monroe said...

Oh my gosh! It worked. I tried that "slash" on the last tag, but it didn't work before. I typed cap I this time.

Okay. I'll stop bugging you now! Go back to working on your WIP. Thanks!

8:46 PM EST  

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