How to deal with empty pages, when the urge, obligation or need to create is strong but the creation itself remains formless and elusive? How to find a way in? It is a stereotypical scene; Jack Nicholson in front of his typewriter, Billy Crystal and ‘the night was moist‘; Snoopy and ‘it was a dark and stormy night.’ Samuel Beckett made a whole career out of this and related issues:
The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.
(Quoted from here.)
Classic techniques to get started include cut-ups, pulling random words from a random volume and seeking connections, bashing at the typewriter until something comes (typing nonsense until form emerges or the writer keels over), even as a last resort going away and actually learning something. Constraints are a great place to start.
While I do not write a lot, and have published nothing major, I can say this much: Nothing works all the time. Sometimes stories do begin with a stream of nonsense from which a phrase emerges. Sometimes the phrase or idea comes without the nonsense, and I scribble it down (or type it into my second brain). But above all else it is a habit.
Now, I publish scrappy drawings on this blog from time to time — I generally try to alternate them with text-based entries like this one. (Indeed, this entry was prompted by my having a drawing I was going to put up and then realising the last post was also a drawing. So I needed some words. So I fell back on writing about trying to get words down.) I am not pretending the drawings are all that funny, but they usually have a joke in them. Where does it come from? Habit. I habitually sit down with a pencil and paper and let my mind turn over ideas and challenge expectations. The last post is an example. The scrap of paper I had had a scrawl on it that one of my kids had done some time ago. I vaguely recalled it was meant to be a hot air balloon. I started thinking about shaped balloons — the sky whale was hard to forget — and it struck me that they are very highly visible. Well, what would a viewer not want to see in the sky, and what would make a reasonable shape for a balloon? A bit more daydreaming and there it was. I sketched it out in a few minutes — it is clear my drawings don’t take very long, I think you’ll agree. The original image looked like this:
So you can see I am very choosy about my materials. The paper was crumpled, pink, and already used. The orange splodge I don’t know anything about. I scanned it in, used imagej to make it monochrome, then kolourpaint to clean it up and, since the writing is so bad, type the words in.
I would never use such a slap-dash approach if I was producing work to submit to a proper magazine. But the relaxed atmosphere of just getting something to bung up onto a blog means I can still get ‘something’ out, and now and again I put together something I think worthy of higher honours. And then I post it here anyway.