The Blank Page

After spending the past few weeks revising a handful of stories for lit-mag submission season, I’ve climbed back into the ring to work on a new one. It’s about a train hopper who is growing weary of the mendicant’s life.

I’ve written two paragraphs so far, and feel a bit like a boxer in the first round circling, feinting and jabbing, but not ready to step in and commit to an offense. Here’s the thing, though: I have a pretty good idea of where I’m going with this story. In workshops, we often talk about our process, so here’s mine:

Step 1: The light bulb goes off. It’s often just an image or a character. Sky Boys, for example, came out of that photo popping into my head on the way to work one day. Another story, yet to be published, started with an idea about a girlfriend’s kid who plays mean pranks on the narrator, along with the line “I couldn’t help it. I loved the little shit.”

Step 2: I let the idea ferment. Typically I’ll spend a week or two trying to suss out the story from this image or character. Even the best concept still needs a compelling story behind it, so that’s where the rumination process comes in. This is usually done while out jogging or trying to get to sleep.

Step 3: Outline. I’m one of those people. I outline everything. It’s not too detailed, but I try to come up with a paragraph or two about each character along with a basic blueprint for each section of the story. Usually it’s only 3-5 parts – the sections between the white space in my short stories, though each part may encompass a couple of scenes. This is when I try to articulate the plot to myself and determine character arc for the mains.

Step 4: Write the damn thing. I’ve been over this. I’m a slow, meticulous writer. I’ve met plenty of writers who just let it spill out, then go back and clean it up later. I find that amazing, but it’s not how I do it.

It’s strange, though, that for all my planning, getting down to the micro level and actually putting words on a blank page does not come easily. I suppose it’s daunting to commit to a tack, especially for someone as bad at revisions as I am. Sometimes it takes a false start or two before the blank page drops its guard and I can step in and let fly. Hope that happens soon.

All right, back to it….

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