Facing the blank page


When I began writing, I felt I could not write unless there was inspiration, a sudden descent of the muse or whatever. In more recent years, I feel I can push along without the muse. However, it’s hard to start without something: an idea that interests me, a compelling image.

Ring of Swords began with an idea or maybe a question. Could I write a military space opera, considering that I have no use for the genre?

A YA I am working on now began with two images: a baby, wrapped in a blanket, left on the lip of a fountain; and a boy climbing out of second story window on a rope or knotted sheets, while a girl stands in the street below and watches him.

Sometimes a story begins with nothing except a sentence that is somehow evocative. If I’m lucky, other sentences arrive.

When I first began writing, I would feel my way to the end of the story, having little idea of what lay ahead. The advantage of this was: writing was interesting to me, because I didn’t know what would come next. The disadvantage was: I got stuck a lot. Sometimes I got stuck for long periods of time. A Woman of the Iron People took thirteen years to write, because I stopped for years in the middle.

Nowadays, I am more likely to have at least a partial plot. It may make the writing process less surprising and interesting, but it’s easier to move ahead if you know where you are going.

I usually have several stories going at once. If I am not able to continue one, I move to another. Right now, I have a novel that’s in the revision stage, plus the openings for two YAs, plus five works of short fiction in various stages of completion.

I don’t recommend this. I suspect it’s better to have fewer projects and work on them consistently. But I rarely have to face a completely blank page, because there is always something that is begun or partially done.