Drawing a Blank

by Linda Pastan

I place one word slowly
in front of the other,
like learning to walk again
after an illness.
But the blank page
with its hospital corners
tempts me.
I want to lie down
in its whiteness
and let myself drift
all the way back
to silence.

I sit down to my computer to write, something I’ve done multiple times each week for a few years now. First, like any honest writer, I check social media, where I see that this writer friend was published here and that writer friend was published there. There is a myriad of questions posed in my various online writer’s groups: “How should I approach my agent with this thought,” or “How can I boost my book sales on Amazon?”

I return to my blank document. Right now, it’s what I have—I’m not represented by an agent and I’m not tracking any book sales. I have an empty screen.

Typically, this would invigorate me. A blank page contains endless possibilities! The thought of what I could create with my words usually drives me to type at speeds so fast you’d wonder if my fingers were actually attached to my body.

These days, however, I sit before the blankness and my eyes get heavy. I try to stay awake as I type the beginnings of a sentence that will have a devastatingly short life span. I delete it. This dance between writing a little and deleting a lot goes on for a while before I either surrender to the disappointing reality that I will not be getting anything written that day, or I force out a piece that I’m not particularly proud of. Both options leave me desiring more.

A year ago, I was talking with agents and seeing a number of my pieces accepted by publications I love. Writing came easy to me; my fingers were flying across the keyboard with little attention given to the delete key. Today, my writing feels entirely different and I can’t help but wonder what it all means.

Have I gone as far as I can go in my writing? Have I exhausted my creativity? Have I fallen out of love with writing? Has writing fallen out of love with me? Why do my ideas seem scarce and my writing feel flat?

What does it mean that I’m not creating pieces of writing like I used to?

In his book, “Let Your Life Speak,” Parker Palmer writes about the four seasons to metaphorically describe our life experiences. There is summer, which can be characterized by its abundance, and there is winter, where death is loud (especially for those of us in the Midwest) as we bid farewell to our plants and many animals go into hiding.

Winter can feel bleak. It’s quiet—silent, even. Unlike summer, when people are out and about, I can step outside in the dead of winter and hear nothing. It’s not, however, an awkward or uncomfortable silence, but a welcomed one. It’s peaceful.

Why, then, is the silence I’m experiencing when I sit down to write so incredibly offensive? Having grown up in the Midwest, where seasons are sharply defined, I’ve never asked what it means when winter hits or when spring comes, I’ve just accepted them.

Parker Palmer, when referring to Midwest winters, says, “The winters here will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them.”

It’s only when we step out into winter that we can experience what it has to offer. We cannot hide from it. We cannot live as if it is August when it’s mid-January. We have to adjust our wardrobe, our activities, and even our recipes. Winter gives us different conditions, different crops, and different challenges than the often more highly-regarded other seasons. And yet, we need winter.

Winter can bring us peace and rest. Growth is not halted, but the necessary process for it to occur simply goes unseen. We need the pause of winter before we are ushered into the hopeful new life of spring.

What does it mean that something I love so deeply is proving to be so difficult right now? Maybe it simply means I’m in winter. Instead of being driven to fear or self-criticism, I could embrace this season. I’ll need to adjust my expectations and behaviors because, after all, I’m not in August. But if I want my writing to experience the new life of spring, I have to endure winter — and it’s best if I just get out into it. As poet Linda Pastan writes, I’m learning to lie down in the blank page’s whiteness, letting myself drift back to silence.

Mallory Redmond embraces anomalies–she is an adventure-loving homebody who keeps a clean house yet always makes a mess whenever eating or brushing her teeth. She loves dry humor, clean sheets, and gathering around the table with friends. Mallory and her husband, Darren, live in Ohio with their beagle, Roger, and [soon!] their first child. You can follow her writing here, where her stories are told with the hope of further uncovering the places of connection in our humanity.