The Democracy Of The Blank Page

In this magazine I spend a lot of time talking to writers of all genres. While the bookstore divides fiction writers into romance, suspense, science fiction/fantasy, and fiction, there is really only one divide about which writers will ever talk meaningfully: literary and commercial.

There is plenty of suspicion and contempt from both sides of this split. As with all biases, our dislike of the other stems from that which we dislike most in ourselves but which expresses itself significantly differently in that other so that we can justify our contempt by pointing out that we aren’t making precisely the same mistake someone else has made.

Meaning, there is more than enough fear to go around. Commercial writers fear they will die without having bought that house on the hill; literary writers fear they will die without ever being told they are brilliant. Everyone’s fear, of course, has it’s own unique flavor, but in the end sour is sour as our egos try to answer that singular question: Why exactly am I doing this?

The ego does not know why you are doing this because the ego does not and cannot understand that original impulse that has no seen cause but which spurs all effect – I am doing this because I like to. Answer this question from your heart and that is all you will hear. Answer from your ego and you get houses and praise.

But spend a little time with other writers, no matter what they write, and you will discover that the tie that binds is not the product but the work. The finished product is for the readers – let them haggle over which is better. But the work itself is for us, because every page begins exactly as blank as the next, no matter what fills it in the end. Everyone is trying to fill their page with something that pleases them, and no matter what the writer across from you fills his or hers with, you know what it feels like when your work pleases you – how could you not want that for everyone else?

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