Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Defeating The White Screen of Doom

It's that time again -- time to tackle a new semester with all that youthful, college vigor. Time to hit the ground running and dig into our studies with no regard for the outside world. Time to become one with the university --  no, with knowledge itself!

Yeah, right.

 Getting back into the swing of things can be a challenge for the best of us, and writing is no exception. If there's one thing that I dread more than any other, it's that initial moment where I sit down on the computer and pop open the word processor. I don't care if I've had a thousand ideas shooting through my head. It doesn't matter if I've wowed myself with seventeen different structurally-perfect arguments on this that or the other. When that first blinking cursor begins its maddening pulse, my hands freeze. My brain locks up. I'd swear that half the time I end up drooling on myself.

Fortunately the Evil White Screen has a few weaknesses.  As clever of a monster as it might be, it's also a coward.  You know that kid that beat you up in the lunch line because you thought you were a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and rubber-banded your first and last two fingers together?

(No?  No one?  Must just be me...)

Anyway, just like those school-yard bullies, the White Screen of Doom can't stand someone who stands up to them (unless, like me, your 'vicious right hook' hits about as hard as a limp-wristed kitten).  Here's the biggest weapon in your arsenal:

Give yourself permission to write poorly.

Right now.  Say it out loud.  I don't care that your roommate's cat is giving you a funny look.  The best way to get a project off the ground is to tell that inner editor to shut his gob.  Everyone has their own little critics.  Some of them are gentle whispers, guiding you along a more refined path, pointing out things that could be improved.  Others flay the skin off your back with flaming whips of self-deprecation with a sadistic fervor that would make the Balrog cringe.  

One of the things that paralyzes more writers than anything else is the fear that what they write will suck.  Guess what?  The first time around, it probably will.  There are probably two people in the entire galaxy who are capable of producing flawless text the first time, every time.  And those people better hope that none of us other writers find him or her, because we'd probably slice open their brains like jealousy-maddened zombies in a vain attempt to steal their powers.

Writing is just as much a reflective exercise as it is an art.  As we write, we're trying to take the abstract ideas floating around in our heads and transfer them in their most accurate form into the mind of the reader.  Odds are, you're not going to know exactly what you want to say when you sit down.  As you write, you'll figure it out.  You can always go back and give your sentences a cutesy little makeover once the words are on the screen.

It's pretty freaking hard to make white space academically appealing.

Now let me put a little context behind that statement.  I'm talking about rough drafts here.  Please don't roll your face against the keyboard and turn that in as your final product.  Obviously, you'll want to go back and think about what you've written.  However, that first step, that initial splatter of ideas onto the page is often times the most difficult part.  Heck, if you're anything like me, half the time your rough draft won't even be in complete sentences.  When I have an idea, I have to write it down nearly immediately or it slips through the cracks in my nose and vanishes underneath my dirty laundry pile.

Trust yourself.  Give those first initial thoughts some voice.  Every builder needs raw material to work with.  Writing is no different.

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