The Horror of the Blank Screen

The most wonderful and horrific moment for any writer is opening up a new document and staring at that blank screen.

You think of all the potential. This document could be anything. It could be the book that launches your writing career, the book that finally gets you taken seriously, the book that makes you a million dollars, the book that gets you laid.

It could also be a a really shitty book, something you’d sooner burn than show another living person, a waste of a month of your life. How many months do you really have left? Is it worth throwing one away for the chance—just a chance—of writing something you might not want to destroy?

You decide it is worth a chance. All that potential, all the things that could be, it’s just too seductive. You give it a title, add a byline, page numbers… it’s all going so well!

Until. The first sentence. Because as soon as you write the first sentence, you’ve destroyed a little bit of the potential.

If you write “The woman crawled out of the stasis tube and began to search the empty vessel, looking for any sign of life beyond herself,” then you just made at least half a dozen decisions about the book to follow.

Now it can’t be about a young man’s quest to live up to his parents’ expectations. It can’t be about a Queen’s secret love affair with her tailor. It can’t be about three friends who embark one summer on a sexual odyssey that will change their lives forever.

It can’t be about any of these things because you just wrote the first sentence and the first sentence is about a goddamned woman on an abandoned space ship.

So think carefully when you consider that blank screen. Think about everything it means when you write the first sentence and the one after that and the one after that.

Think of all the potential you’re squandering, how your options become more and more limited with every new word. Think about how the story you write will never, ever be as good as the story in your head.

You might as well just quit now. Quit while you still have all that limitless potential that is a blank screen.

All it would mean is giving up your dreams of writing, going back to “I should write a book… someday” and admitting that you don’t really want to write, you just want to be a writer.


Disclaimer: This post is in response to a thread on the NaNoWriMo forums requesting a demotivational pep talk option as a counterpoint to the standard cheerfulness level of the official pep talks. This is not official in any way as I am neither NaNoWriMo staff nor has this post been reviewed by the Office of Letters and Light, the parent organization of NaNoWriMo (because why would they care what I do?).

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