Across The Blank Page

by Bill Kenower

When 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.” 

I remembered Hoffman’s comments two years later when Iinterviewed 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. 

When 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 they do.  

How 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?  

My 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.” 

Which 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.  

The 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. 

But I 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.

Bill Kenower is Editor-in-Chief of Author magazine and a full-time freelance writer. He lives in Seattle.

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