When The Blank Page Has To Stay Blank

The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday. — Mary Schmich.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden

It wasn’t a Tuesday. It was a Thursday. And it was a bit later than 4 p.m. But yes, I was blindsided. In hindsight, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it did.

I wasn’t even the person most affected by it, but I knew in that instant that I wouldn’t be writing for a while. Somebody else needed my undivided attention, far more than I needed my writing or my writing needed me. For now, I would be spending my emotional labour trying to soften the blow of what might be the derailment of an imploding life. If this happened, and then that didn’t happen, then there would be very little left to salvage. (I tend to catastrophise about things.)

Which meant, of course, that it was once again time for many variants on one particular kind of writing advice to crop up in my newsfeed. You’ll know the sort. This one habit of every successful writer! Write every day if you want to make it! Daily writing is essential! Just one sentence is enough! You can do it!

Only, I couldn’t. Just one sentence was a whole sentence more than I could manage. My word count targets flatlined.

I knew there would be consequences. I knew that I would lose the thread of my novel-in-progress, that I would slip away from a multitude of carefully-curated habits. I knew I wouldn’t post a blog that week. I knew that finding my way again, rebuilding those habits, could potentially take weeks. And I just couldn’t bring myself to care. Because when some things blindside you on a Thursday afternoon, other things become irrelevant.

The news was mitigated. This and that happened, or didn’t happen, in such a way that my catastrophising was unfounded. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, not by a long shot. From where I sit now, it may even turn out to be a blessing.

In the past two weeks I’ve written precisely half a page of fiction. Maybe a hundred words, if I’m lucky. I have completely lost my thread, and I don’t know how long it will take it get it back.

And that’s OK.

So here’s my take on it, as of now. If you want to write, and you are driven to write, but:

You’re so ill that all you can do is lie under a blanket and shiver. That’s OK.

You’re so tired that you can barely hold your eyes open, let alone hold a pen. That’s OK.

You’re so overwrought that the very thought of sitting down at your computer makes you want to throw your keyboard out of the window. That’s OK.

Somebody you care about needs you with them, needs your attention and a shoulder to cry on. That’s OK.

And if that means that you don’t write, that’s OK. You’re allowed to not write. Forgive yourself for not writing.

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