Every writer dreams of being that prodigy who pours their heart and soul into a novel and, against all odds, it sweeps across the nation and becomes the next bestseller. Not only a bestseller; it’s a beautifully crafted piece of literature.
A life-changing tome.
You know, one of those titles that all good bookstores keep in stock at all times. It stays in the top ten bestsellers for a record amount of time. Professors select it as a set text in university classes and Goodreads has given you 4.5 stars out of 5 (because no one ever gets 5 out of 5, do they?)
But first, before the instant success that almost never happens, before the hunt for an agent and publisher, before we research how to write an effective synopsis, before the seven different drafts and a myriad of conflicting advice from our beta readers; first comes the battle with the blank page.
The glaringly white Word document stares you in the face, that cursor blinking at you mockingly.
‘Go on,’ it says, ‘make my day.’
Your fingertips hover over the keyboard, brushing lightly against the surface of the keys, but nothing happens. No words spill forth. No brilliant quotes come out. No magic happens.
‘Well?’ it asks, ‘Where’s that bestseller of yours?’
You force yourself to write. Just something to warm up with – it certainly doesn’t need to be perfect. An opening line. A basic description. One little sentence. Anything.
‘Still nothing, huh?’
You get up and make a cup of tea (or coffee), and sit back down, ready to create. Steam twirls over your cup. Tiny droplets of condensation roll down the edges and form a ring on the surface of your desk. You try to think of a person or a place. There’s got to be a story somewhere deep inside you. You can feel it stirring. Your fingers jerk back into motion and the first black letters appear across the top of your screen.
It’s not much, but it’s a start.
Even this little burst of inspiration is encouraging. Your fingers move faster. It feels as though the perfect words are starting to coagulate onto the page. You capture them like butterflies and pin them to your screen.
A story starts to emerge.
Ideas begin to swirl and thicken into something harder, something more concrete than just an idea. You bleed it out onto the keyboard. You pour everything you have and everything you know into that story. The page numbers begin to multiply.
You are now in double digits.
Still, you keep going as characters emerge into the forefront of events. And they are brilliant characters, full of life and complexity that make your readers wonder whether they’re based on real people. The story twists. And then it turns. It takes you to a place you never realised it could go, somewhere so shockingly new and unexplored that you feel lost in the most beautiful way.
At last the tapping of keys begins to slow down.
And then it stops.
You hit the save button and sit back to admire your efforts. Wait a second. It’s not quite right. No, no, no – it’s no good at all. How could you possibly have thought that this was a good story? It goes nowhere. The characters have no substance. The dialogue is stilted. The plot is full of holes.
This isn’t a bestseller; this is the sort of manuscript an editor passes along to their colleagues for a good laugh. For years they’ll use it as an example of how not to write a novel.
Or worse, they’ll stop reading after the first paragraph.
Now that would really sting.
You select the entire text, scrolling backwards through all those pages, and hit the backspace key. That’s better. A fresh start is what you need. A clean slate. You poise your fingers over the keyboard and find yourself looking at that blank screen once again, the cursor taunting you as it blinks at the top of the page
‘Well,’ says the cursor, ‘You didn’t honestly expect writing to be easy, did you?’