My Deep, Dark Secret: As a Writer, I Feared the Blank Page!
by Kaye D. Schmitz
I’ve always been a writer. Stories just naturally bubbled up from my soul and spilled out of me, often before I had a chance to perfect, or even examine, them. As a tiny child, my imagination would call for changing the direction of play with my cousins by taking us to a whole new story to act out…sometimes to a whole new world. When not outside playing, I read constantly or wrote poems, as my mother did. One of my poems, in fact, was considered so creative by my parents and teacher that it was published in our local newspaper when I was ten-years-old.
My writing continued with poems and short stories in my high school newspaper. I was so adept at dashing something off that the editor would often approach me with, “We have a couple of open columns. Will you write something?” And I did.
But then life happened. I went to college and had to restrict my writing to term papers, which didn’t allow for a ton of creativity. Read that as “none.” After college, I worked at IBM as a sales rep for large companies, so I wrote business proposals—again, no room for creativity. My clients always checked to make certain that two hundred thousand and two hundred thousand added up to four hundred thousand. No wiggle room.
During this time, my children’s father left me for another woman and my world crashed around me. Oh sure, I got the house and, most important, my wonderful children. And I still had my job at IBM. But I drifted through my days feeling steely gray inside; no color beckoned me out of my deep funk.
So, a good friend offered to take me to a psychic on a Saturday afternoon. You know, to get my blood flowing again. When I finally finished rolling my eyes, I agreed to accompany her because she also promised lunch. I sat across from someone I didn’t believe in and held out my hand to have my palm read with the same hesitation and misgivings a child has when offering oats to a horse…ready to pull back at any second. The psychic took my hand and immediately proclaimed, “Oh! You’re a writer!”
Well, I put words together for my job, of course, but that was the extent of it. So unless you were looking for a fantastic deal on a computer, trust me, it was nothing you’d ever want to read.
Later, my friend told me she didn’t live her life by anything she heard from a psychic but used the sessions as a catalyst to jump-start herself in a different direction. I thought about that. And I thought about what the psychic had told me: that I was a writer. Before long, I decided to get off my you-know-what and do something about it.
So I signed up for a journaling class. I showed up with around a dozen other people and I brought with me the prettiest little spiral bound notebook you ever saw, with the sun, moon, and stars on the cover and dozens of beautiful cream-colored blank pages. The instructor told us the reasons for and benefits of journaling, along with a few tips and techniques. I was fine with all that. After all, I was an academic, so my philosophy was: teach me what I need to know and I’ll go off and do it on my own.
But no. The instructor wanted me to write in class! In front of people!
My insides rebelled; but, since my mother hadn’t raised me to be rude, I opened my journal to the first cream-colored sheet and got out my pen.
And that’s when it happened.
The cream-colored sheet stared me in the face. And scared me to death! Until that moment, I had never known I feared the blank page. I’d been writing all my life, but this time words wouldn’t come. I just sat there…everybody else was busily writing…but I was paralyzed. I mean…the page was blank…I didn’t know what to say.
Finally, I was too embarrassed to just sit there any longer knowing that my fellow classmates had already filled two sheets. So, I touched the pen to the page to see what would happen. And the pen moved. On its own. The words that came shocked me.
I’m sitting here with a blank page in front of me and I’m feeling fear. The clean page is so beautiful, I don’t want to risk messing it up.
The words that came next were even more shocking to me, but they said:
Is that what my life has come to—that I am too afraid to act for fear of messing it up?
There it was. A description of my problem. And the message I needed to rid myself of my steely gray funk. To pull myself up and get on with life.
Not long after that, I visited a three-hundred-year-old graveyard in Midway, Georgia. I went for its history but was compelled to visit another section, led there, I believe, by a spirit who was buried at seventeen with her twin infant daughters. The words on her epitaph broke my heart and the kernel of an idea bloomed. When I sat down to write, my fear was gone and, even though I made a few false starts, the words became my first novel, The Consort Conspiracy.
I still experience fear of the blank page, occasionally, but now I know what to do. My friend, Steve Berry, author of international best-selling thrillers, calls it “butt in chair.” Make time to write, he says, on a consistent basis. Some words will come, even if, as in my case from my journaling class, they’re not the words you’re expecting. Your fingers, whether holding a pen or pencil, or poised over a keyboard, will take you where you need to go.
Kaye D. Schmitz is the award-winning author of two novels, The Consort Conspiracy and On Deadly Grounds. Her third novel, The Road Remembered (working title), takes place during World War II and is scheduled to be released late this year. Click here for Kaye’s web site.