The Blank Page is Not Neutral

It seems so harmless, doesn’t it? A simple sheet of 8 1/2-by-11 bond that you and I roll into our typewriter (or the equivalent empty screen on our laptop.)

What could possibly go wrong?

The blank page can be a pretty scary place.

(Other than terminal procrastination, paralysis by perfectionism, self-doubt, self-loathing, self-recrimination, self-hatred, not to mention terminal existential dread, panic, hysteria, flatulence, bad breath, dandruff, and the uncontrollable desire to drink, smoke, vape, fly to Katmandu, and have a mad self-destructive affair with the first person that says hello.)

 

The blank page is not neutral.

 

If we think of it in combat terms, that empty sheet is the equivalent of Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 from the Allied side. Waiting for us when we wade ashore are bunkers, pillboxes, minefields, barbed wire, machine gun nests. Artillery and mortar fire will be pounding every inch of the beach without letup. Even if you and I make it ashore in one piece, nothing lies ahead of us inland but dug-in enemy divisions backed up by tanks and aircraft, on and on.

Or, if we’d rather see it in Game of Thrones terms, that blank page is defended by the Night King, the army of the dead in numbers uncountable, not to mention a dive-bombing, fire-breathing dragon whose jetting flames have got our name on them.

What can we do to fight this?

Step One (and a tremendously powerful step) is simply to be aware of the fact of Resistance and to not be unnerved and unmanned when it rears its hideous head.

What could possibly go wrong?

My own life was a train wreck for seven years after its first encounter with this monster. Why? Because I wasn’t mentally prepared. I was innocent.

I had no defenses.

No plan of action.

Resistance steamrolled right over me.

 

The blank page is not neutral.

 

On the other hand …

On the other hand, simply to know what’s coming makes all the difference.

When we know what we’re up against, we can formulate a plan.

We can steel ourselves in advance.

We can marshal our internal resources.

Then, when that first Mike Tyson left hook slams into our jaw, we may reel, we may stagger, we may even hit the canvas …

But it won’t necessarily kayo us.

 

The blank page is not neutral, but neither are we.

 

Dragons have been slain.

The Allies did prevail on D-Day.

Even the army of the dead eventually bit the dust.

We will find a way, we will do what we must … whatever works for you, whatever works for me.

The blank page is not invincible.

 

 

DO THE WORK

Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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THE AUTHENTIC SWING

A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

The-Authentic-Swing

NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.

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TURNING PRO

Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

Turning-Pro

24 Comments

  1. David Allan on June 11, 2019 at 8:10 am

    Are you throwing us a curve ball with releasing this on Tuesday?

    • Mary Doyle on June 11, 2019 at 8:32 am

      That was my thought too – I was worried that I’d somehow missed Tuesday. Great post though!

    • Consuelo Castañuela Helbling on June 11, 2019 at 9:24 am

      Ha. I accepted it’s Weds… Lol

      • Joanne on June 11, 2019 at 12:08 pm

        So did I!

  2. Carolyn on June 11, 2019 at 8:11 am

    Thank you

  3. grace on June 11, 2019 at 8:34 am

    Happy to see it today, Tues or Wed.

  4. Joe Jansen on June 11, 2019 at 8:49 am

    This nails it. With the 75th anniversary of D-Day recently, I was watching a couple episodes of Band of Brothers (again). Trying to put myself in their minds, thinking what it would like to face withering fire and still move forward.

    I could write it (Czech hedgehogs), send it out (barbed wire and Teller mines), wait for a response (MG42s), follow up (88s), get rejected (105 mm howitzers). A half-dozen ways to get killed. So do we crawl up inside our helmets? (I think that metaphor came from Tim O’Brien, but I can’t recall.) Walk away and don’t even try?

    Or do we move forward into fire? Good one today.

  5. Cathy Ryan on June 11, 2019 at 8:51 am

    Great post! Had me laughing in wry recognition – and checking the date. Ha!
    Thank you.

  6. Lisa Lanzetta on June 11, 2019 at 9:06 am

    Oh man, you are such a Shaman! This came at the PERFECT time. (soooo happy it came today!)
    I just struggled through a blank page (even though I had called in the directions).
    And, another blank page stared me right in the eye, so I went to feed the dog, make my shake, water the garden…you get the picture. LOL.
    Finally back at puter and last distraction aka resistance, to check my email, and there you are hitting me over the head!
    THANK YOU!!
    P.S. I make (not suggest) all my clients buy the War of Art.

  7. Marvin Ginsberg on June 11, 2019 at 9:07 am

    It seems my whole life is a blank page. The good news is, if I start, I can fill it up. How do I start? I don’t know. My mind is like a minefield, or mindfield. It has me trapped. Help! Get me out! Get me out of here.
    I think i’ll Accept the present moment, and move on.

  8. Kyle Westerman on June 11, 2019 at 9:23 am

    I have been getting my ass kicked by the page over and over again. I am formulating new strategies of approach and getting words down but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t getting deeply discouraged or wondering if this was for me at all.

    It was like after all the inspiration I felt from the Story Grid class and your work Steve that I was actually just a crazy person and I have no place writing anything. To know an author I respect so much feels any of the things you described in this article makes me feel so much better.

    I guess maybe giving up isn’t the solution after all. Maybe it’s possible to transcend resistance. Maybe despite feeling like I am broken, blocked, or not a writer at all; I am actually going through a natural process. So I will continue to show up. Bring myself to the chair everyday and continue to work to find a way to beat resistance.

    I am not alone. It has been done. And just maybe I can too.

    • No one in particular on June 21, 2019 at 4:29 pm

      It’s a strange journey for a writer. Doubt always persists. If you feel, if you express who you are in a way that is you-is that not art?
      Writers and artists do what they do…and in doing so they allow us a glimpse of something that arises from a place beyond our ken. Some people will resonate with what we write…some won’t. Come to the party as you are. Hold your head high and know that no matter what you write as long as it comes from you and is part of you..will always be worthy.

  9. Gwen Abitz on June 11, 2019 at 9:29 am

    I know it is RESISTANCE all in Caps. Thanks!!! for this Post. I will find a way. I will do what I must. Whatever works for me. I’ve started and LOOKS LIKE right now – “the way” is POWER POINT. I can move “the slides” wherever I want them to be. Create a blank one. I was in a car wreck and I wasn’t the driver. Damages can be repaired in a safe way for me to drive. I’ll accept whatever dents; be my own driver and take a different route. Thankful and grateful “it” didn’t kayo me.

  10. Tom j Dolan on June 11, 2019 at 9:36 am

    I know I’m close when my resistance is at its peak.
    “We’ve reached the Age where Life stops giving us things
    and starts taking them away.” – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
    Message arrived at the best time….tuesday….shmoosday….who cares!
    Thanx

  11. Yvonne on June 11, 2019 at 10:59 am

    There is much-needed hope in this post of overcoming Resistance *and* the blank page…thank you.

  12. Kim on June 11, 2019 at 11:11 am

    Ever fabulous, dear SPressfield. But.. a question: why would the affair be self destructive?? Just wondering. That part sounds kinda fun. (Better than war.;). You, and I, could always write when we get home from the trip. We could write about it! #inspo 😊

  13. Brian Nelson on June 11, 2019 at 10:07 pm

    Steve,
    Love the war metaphors. So appropriate. There is something about being ‘so alive’ because the fear of death is so real.

    There are times I reflect on my combat experience to pull forward into the present. Shit matters. Takes 100% attention. No room for distraction. Work, workout, read, sleep, repeat x 365+. The same degree of terror has hit me numerous times with our race.

    One day, after learning that our T-shirt’s wouldn’t arrive in time—I was driving north on I5 when Kelly called. I wanted to shit, drive into a bottle of tequila, suck my thumb, and wet my pants all at one time.

    Then, I had this weird mindful experience. I realized that I wasn’t road-raging. I didn’t yell at Kelly. I didn’t swerve around the highway. I wasn’t ‘comfortable’ not ‘happy’—but I was able to hold it. The ick. The fear. The ambiguity.

    Then I thought, “what if I just quit?” The answer that came to mind was that I would steal the joy of the hundreds of people who planned to run.

    Then it was very clear. This is my cross. Not curing brain cancer. Not flying to the moon. I produce a small race in Tacoma, WA…but in doing so, we set the conditions for joy. Authentic, well-earned joy.

    The cost is that I carry a never-ending sense of unease until race day. That’s it.

    Then I thought, “If everyone who was willing and capable of carrying this same degree of unease chose to drop it…there would be nothing. No buildings, roads, innovations—-shit, art would never exist.”
    It is the cross all creatives must shoulder. Sometimes with grace and ease, others by the skin of our teeth. It never gets easier, but that is how we know we are alive.

    Back to combat: this shit matters. People will die. Others carry the loss. No distraction. Full attention. Maniacal routine. I believe this is where we find meaning.
    bsn

  14. Becky on June 12, 2019 at 8:05 am

    Love you Steve! Just what I needed!

  15. Sandra on June 12, 2019 at 5:37 pm

    Much needed. Thank you!

  16. Ken Robertson on June 12, 2019 at 6:48 pm

    Thanks Steve! Does this apply songwriters? No white page, just 2 hands, a guitar, and empty air. Certainly feels the same. Thanks for the words of wisdom and guidance!

  17. Markus on June 13, 2019 at 2:07 am

    Great Post,

    I definitely know what you are talking about. When I first started writing I had days when I just stared at the page for an hour and then stopped and Procrastinated till the next day.

  18. M. Darling on June 13, 2019 at 4:56 am

    My characters joyfully cried when I returned after being knocked away. I felt climbing up Mount Everest barefoot was enough. Just…do…it. Your words of wisdom Steve are stored in my memory bank. Thank you for the simple, but profound, advice.

  19. Imgn on June 13, 2019 at 6:07 am

    Having (cyber) Writer Friends is such a heart warming, internal-artisan experience

  20. Lisa Caine on June 14, 2019 at 12:31 am

    You never disappoint Steven. Your words bring joy, reminders, a chuckle and a feeling that ‘we are not alone’! Thanks for keeping us focussed and amused at the same time.

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