Guest Katie Alender on Running on Empty

Guest Katie Alender on Running on Empty

[Blank pages. At one point or another, most writers fear them. However, in today’s guest post, Katie Alender (Bad Girls Don’t Die YA, and Bad Girls Don’t Die: From Bad to Cursed YA coming June 14, 2011) describes two different blank pages and how one applies to us all.]

Running On Empty

A lot has been said about blank pages. As a writer, you can’t escape them. They’re in your job description. A first draft is nothing but blank pages. And even when you’re revising and feeling good—coasting along with the confidence of a puppy—BOOM! One pops up, right in your face: a blank page.

The farther I get on a project and the harder I work, the more I notice a distressing trend: blank pages start following me around. They find me at Twitter, where 140 characters suddenly seem insurmountable. They find me at Facebook, where no phrase on earth seems sufficiently pithy/hilarious/relevant. And they lurk at my blog, where the “New Post” screen stares me down like the eye of a giant killer whale.

In these helpless moments, it inevitably hits me: “I can’t do it. I’m out. I literally can’t think of a single thing to say.”

And then I think, “Aaaaaaargh, I suck!”

But then, a few seconds later, something odd happens: I start to feel okay about it. In fact, I start to feel good.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: there are actually two kinds of blank pages. There’s the kind everybody thinks of: the kind that means you haven’t started yet. But there’s another kind, too: the kind that you earn.

And as a writer, I’m always in pursuit of the second kind.

Over the holidays, I went skiing in Colorado. To say I’ve never been much of a skier is an insult to actual skiers everywhere. (I’m better described as a “faller/cryer.”) But this time, I really wanted to learn. So I spent five hours a day, for all four days, in ski school. I suited up and headed out while the rest of the family was still drinking their coffee. I missed the ball dropping, went to bed at nine, and skied on New Year’s Day. I skied when it was minus twenty degrees and our hair froze into icy webs around our faces. I skied when my instincts told me to toss myself into the snow and cry.

At the end of every day, I felt like I’d earned something. By the end of the week… well, you couldn’t say I was a good skier. But I’d made a lot of progress. More importantly, I knew I’d given it every ounce of energy I had. And that felt amazing.

When I’m neck-deep in a draft or a revision, feeling utterly flummoxed, my five-day-old status update or my empty “New Post” screen is actually a tiny signal that I might be doing something right. Yeah, there are little boats waiting in the harbor, but that’s because the tugboats are out there in the open water, bringing in the tanker.

It’s terrifically bracing to work to your limit. Suddenly, the mythical blank page isn’t terrifying; it’s simply impossible. It’s not scary; it’s just a mountain to be climbed another day. And because you’ve conquered so many before, you stop associating them with terror and start thinking of them as a canvas for fresh starts and new possibilities.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Whatever it is you love, whatever you’re committed to, do it until you’ve used yourself up. Then take a break, recharge, come back with a full tank…

And say good morning to the next blank page.

* * * * *

Book Giveaway: The Divining Wand is giving away one copy of The Art of Forgetting by Camille Noe Pagán in a random drawing of comments left only on this specific post, Camille Noe Pagán and The Art of Forgetting. Comments left on other posts during the week will not be eligible. The deadline is Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 7:00 p.m. EDT with the winners to be announced here in Thursday’s post. If you enter, please return Thursday to see if you’re a winner.

7 thoughts on “Guest Katie Alender on Running on Empty

  1. I really needed to read that post today. Thank you. I am a bit less panicked about the 4 empty pages I need to finish by the end of the week. The short week.
    I hope yours is off to a good start.

  2. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a blank page described this way; it’s fabulous. I’ll bookmark this post so I can re-read it when I need a boost!

    Thank you!

  3. “Whatever it is you love, whatever you’re committed to, do it until you’ve used yourself up. Then take a break, recharge, come back with a full tank…”

    Love that. Absolutely love that.

    Time to go push myself to the limit… 😉

  4. So turn in all things we do, be it writer, artist, mom, sister or friend there is always a blank page to be faced in the wake of change for good or bad. Taking a step back and knowing we have done all that we can provides a feeling of calmness and the knowledge that we are in the place we are meant to be. Thanks for sharing.

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