I read once that Ernest Hemingway called the blank page “the white bull.” I fully understand this. The blank page is mercilessly indifferent. It doesn’t care how many books you’ve written or awards you’ve won. It doesn’t care if you’re married or divorced, if a loved one just died or your first child was just born. It offers no advice or critique or clue about what you are going to write. It does not believe in right or wrong. It waits for you as it waits for anyone who has ever sat down to write.
The blank page also lays bare the role choice plays in my life. Not one thing appears on that page until I choose to put it there. I am not always happy with my life, and the unhappier I am, the more I want to blame other people for that unhappiness. Surely I wouldn’t have created this; it must be someone else’s fault. I cannot play that game with the blank page. My acceptance of creative responsibility must be as complete as the page is indifferent.
Which is why I sometimes fear it. The smaller and more insignificant I feel – the more life feels like something happening to me rather than something passing through me – the less capable I feel of accepting this responsibility. The blank page exposes me. There is nowhere to hide on the blank page, nor does it allow me to dream of a future where my potential will at last be realized. The blank page stands in the here and now, more honest than a mirror.
As my relationship with that blank page has evolved, however, I have learned to make a friend of it. I rarely feel as happy and on purpose as when I have allowed myself to enter the creative stream of a story I am telling. I cannot enter that stream without the blank page, for the stream is unique to me: it is a current of thought moving in the direction of my unique interest. How nice to begin my workday with a friend who always asks, “What do you care about most in the world? Let’s go pursue it.”
And when I am away from my desk, and I am feeling myself pulled in some dark direction, when I perceive clouds of doom gathering around my future, I have taught myself to remember that blank page. I will not be happy again, I know, until I allow my mind to become as blank as that page. To do so, I must stop telling myself stories about what I see and hear and read, must slow this current of thought enough that I might get out of my boat and take a look around.
It is literally impossible to know what I will see from this fresh place when I am caught in the shadows of despair and doubt. It is not my job to fix my life or improve my life, it is only ever my job to find that blank page and learn again what it offers, to enter the stream of life that is already flowing.
“A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com