08 September 2011

The Blank Page

Classical writing techniques suggest that the writer begin "in medias res"--in the middle of the action. Lewis Carrol would say to start at the beginning and when you get to the end, stop. Quentin Tarantino might say to start with the end and then jump to the beginning.

But the blank page can be a frightening prospect and many would be writers worry themselves about how to begin because great beginnings are remembered.

But it's not like the complete idea exists in its entirety in the air at the time you begin writing. It is not just waiting for you to place it neatly on the page. But the page is not an Asian rock garden.

Maybe the page is more like a wild jungle and the idea, carefully hidden, is waiting to be sprung like a booby trap with just the right sequence of moves. And although syntax is often the difference between verse and poem, between a good working draft and a moving final product, this ides still suggests that the idea is completely there waiting to be discovered.

Ideas are formed and matured on the page. Before their life on the page, they gestate in our minds like a fetus, but they are only a fetus, unable to exist outside of ourselves. At least, not yet.

Is the page a no-man's land where words fling themselves over the top in the littlest hope of advancing an idea a few feet? If this were true, writing wouldn't be much fun. There's probably not one person around anymore who experienced first hand the war that changed the face of war. WWI is nearly a hundred years old by now.

I think the page is a factory floor that you can fit the whole universe into. (Yes, I intend to evoke images from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy here.) The word is galoshes and I have to make it a poignant idea, instead of word that's fun to say.
Drafting is by far the funnest part of writing for me. You play with all the possibilities and then you choose one to go with.

For the past few years, I chose the no-mans land, the hopeless shooting match. But as of a few weeks ago, I'm choosing the factory floor.

By the way...

Ambulance Tanka

After the accident,
the street was cleared and water
poured into the rain
gutters and also into
his empty galoshes.

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