The Challenge of The Blank Page and First Drafts

Apparently (according to a recent blog post and book I read) one should just gush, almost vomit a torrent of meaningless words onto the blank page. No matter one’s state of mind. And then wade through the dross to mine a few nuggets of gold one may have left there.

But what if that work is being done elsewhere? One does not always need to spray the page with nonsense to arrive at sense, does one?

Of course if all one does is think of the story, the story can play out like a movie in the mind, without words intervening. It can also remain happily incomplete, chaotic and inchoate in a self-satisfied way. (At this stage a story seems to have such zing! Sigh!)

But with this story-movie running so richly through one’s brain, one bypasses words and so the means to actually transmit the story. (Even movies are written first, and then filmed.) To structure the story, to play with it, experiment with it, to move beyond the simplicity of the original conception – is the art of storytelling. And this is where craft and grit and what is called ‘ass in chair’ methods are needed. To translate, to transmit and to transmute.

The Eternal Blank Canvas
The Eternal Blank Canvas

However, I don’t entirely subscribe to the notion that all first drafts have to be ‘shitty’ chaotic behemoths swimming in ill-considered words and thoughts. One can try to put up a decent first draft that can be made even better in subsequent drafts. For someone like me, the mandatorily terrible first draft sounds terrifying!

The difference lies maybe in where one does the ‘thinking’? If you are waiting to know the contents of your mind and subconscious, and it appears first on the page; then yes, that gloriously out of control first draft is a given. But if you take a more meditative approach, you introspect deeply about the words and the content you are going to write, and you write when your mind has built a certain momentum around your topic, then, what you put on the page can be surprisingly polished. And subsequent drafts become the means to impart even more craft into the story.

This is not really perfectionism; it’s also not a way of avoiding writing or waiting for inspiration; it’s a just different way of working. And it’s as hard to do as to produce oodles of words.

It’s also probably the piece you are working on that determines which approach will work. For a rookie writer, it’s best to have a working knowledge of both methods and see what works for you, never losing sight of being able to master the art of turning thoughts into words.

The maxim being, when confronted with the blank page, entice it to become your friend with your story. It matters little whether you a taking a think out loud on paper approach or a more selective approach. Just know that a choice exists.

7 thoughts on “The Challenge of The Blank Page and First Drafts

  1. So much to agree with here!

    Maybe we all use blogs for different purposes, but I have always thought it’s respectful to readers to present something that’s crafted, not blurted… My journal is where the chaos goes, but I wouldn’t expect anyone besides me to be remotely interested in that.

    I like your point about first drafts, too…sometimes the work gets done on the page, wrestling and rewriting and word-smithing. And I believe that the work is sometimes subterranean; it’s taking place in some other level of consciousness, without our full awareness…then suddenly an almost fully formed poem or essay emerges from the fingertips.

    Thanks, Radhika, this was thoughtful and rang very true!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Pam, Thank you so much for stopping by and for such a considered comment! Absolutely, it’s really important for each writer to individually figure out what their process is, and to be aware that there is no ‘one’ way to compose one’s masterpiece! 🙂


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