As writers, we can end up with a lot of stress if we think we have to ‘make up words’ and find the right things to say. It’s no wonder we freeze when we encounter the blank page. All that pressure to perform and to find just the right words.
What’s happening is that we are using the wrong model for our work. We are approaching it the same way we’d approach the task of digging a hole. To do this, we must get a spade and apply effort to digging and then we must carry the soil away. It all takes a lot of labour and it’s all up to us.
But in writing and any creative art we need to work differently. Here we are not toiling on our own to make something out of inert matter, we are working with the imagination and inspiration, which means we have an unseen partner in the endeavour. What is happening is a dialogue with the unknown. It goes like this:
- First, we get an impulse to write. It might be a vague longing to create something, or we might receive a compelling scene or an image. Note that this is given to us – we don’t think it up. The Muse of our inspiration has made a move towards us, and now she wants to see what we will do with what she has given.
- So now we have a choice. We can ignore the impulse, or we can sit down and take dictation. So we write the scene or those first few inspired lines, and then we encounter silence. No more ideas.
- This is where it is tempting to fall back into hard labour to get things going. We start digging the hole, forgetting that this is a dialogue and that silence is part of it. After all, we are dialoging with the unknown, so we are not in control of when it speaks.
- So we sit and we listen. Perhaps we do some free writing – just writing about nothing in particular but keeping the energy of writing open and receptive. What is happening now is that the heart, the Muse, is testing us to see if it is safe for her to give the next instalment. The heart wants to know we are committed before it reveals more of itself.
- Days may go by and we are still just writing aimlessly, but now we are committed, and suddenly we find ourselves back into the story with the words flowing from us.
We do not make up the words, they are given to us. Our work is to pitch up at the blank page and listen. Listening does not mean sitting doing nothing, it means writing or sketching or playing with possible ideas for the story. Even if it seems random and uninspired, the important thing is that we are facing the page, doing the work, finding our way into the flow.
In this way we dialogue with the unknown. We don’t know what to say until it is emerging from our pen. Our work is in providing the hand and the pen and the practice of listening and getting words onto the page. At first the words are all static and noise. We are tempted to abandon the project because we think the Muse has left the conversation. But she hasn’t. She is just waiting for us to reach the frequency at which she is broadcasting so we can hear what she is saying.
Stay in the dialogue and let go of the idea that you have to make up words. The words are given when you get on the right wavelength. You are not a writer – you are a transmitter of a frequency.