Across The Blank Page
by Bill Kenower
Author was still in its infancy, I had the chance to
interview the novelist Alice Hoffman. I mentioned that I had
just listened to an interview with Meryl Streep in which the actress
discussed her doubt that anyone would still want to cast her in a
movie. Hoffman, who has had a long, prolific, profitable, and
decorated career, said she felt much same say. “With every novel,”
she explained, “I feel that I don’t know how to write a novel. It
never gets easier. And I always think maybe this is horrible.”
remembered Hoffman’s comments two years later when I
interviewed Louis Sachar, author of, among many other books,
Holes, the bestselling young adult novel for which he won both
the Newberry and the National Book Award. Sachar described a
conversation he’d had recently with Judy Blume in which he asked the
legendary children’s book author if she ever wondered if a book
she’d just finished was any good at all. “Every one,” she replied.
I look at the world of writing instruction and writing advice, most
of what I see are books and magazine articles focused and the craft
on the business of writing. This is all very well and good. If you
want to play the game of writing you must learn the craft of writing
and then the business of selling what you have written. And yet,
here are Alice Hoffman, Louis Sachar, and Judy Blume all confessing,
in one way or another, that they remain strangely mystified by what
can this be? Is it possible Alice Hoffman doesn’t know enough about
the craft of writing? Is it possible Louis Sachar and Judy Blume
need to learn just a bit more about the business of publishing? It
seems unlikely. The young writer, then, might despair at these
stories. Why am I studying and reading and studying some more if all
that awaits me is more of what I already have?
sister Felicie learned the answer to this question when she was in
college. Felicie has a hungry mind that loves puzzles and problems.
She got all A’s and only one B at the University of Rhode Island.
That B? Creative writing. “I hated that class,” she told me. “There
were no right answers.”
is why Louis Sachar still wonders if what he has written is any good
at all – which is why you probably wonder sometimes if what
you have written is any good at all. There are no right answers.
That there are no right answers is what frightens every
writer, no matter how experienced, and yet also why every
writer, no matter how experienced, chooses to write. The blank page
offers neither advice nor criticism nor expectation, only the
opportunity to create what is of interest to you.
only correct answer for any of our choices, from words to spouses to
careers, is what is of interest to us. There is, in fact, nothing
else that we know for sure. I do not know if what I write will be
published; and if it is published I don’t know who will read it; and
if someone does read it I don’t know if he or she will like it. I
don’t know what anyone else is thinking or has thought or will
think. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow and I have only a
vague, dreamlike memory of what yesterday felt like.
always know what is of interest to me. At anytime, in any city,
state, country, or continent, I can ask myself what is of interest
to me and the answer will be waiting. It is who I am. I look in the
mirror some days and see a stationary creature – but it is a trick
of perception. I am nothing but a trajectory of interest, launched
across the blank page of time to author my own life.
Kenower is Editor-in-Chief of Author magazine and a full-time
freelance writer. He lives in Seattle.