Posted by: jeannineatkins | October 14, 2008

The Beautiful Blank Page

I’ve often revised manuscripts by letting them sit, then hauling them out, hunkering over, and tackling problems. This time, I’m letting my old manuscript wait a little longer, relying on my memory, and opening a clean notebook. It’s revising by way of the blank page. Perfectly white paper makes me feel eager, sort of young, less like a grown up writer whose job is to push around words on a manuscript that needs to get done. Blank paper lets the bossy author fade so I can feel my way into my thirteen-year-old character. The writer on the hunt for words to shuffle around or scratch out might get in her way now. That author, me, would be busy with sentences, and not let my character bloom. In the back of my mind, I know where E. is, who she will meet, where she’s going and some of the blocks in her way, but I’m offering space within chapters, or how E. spends her hours and days, which, of course, could change the whole.

Once I run out of words, I expect it will be fun to go back to the manila folder that’s kept chapters waiting for almost a year while I tended to other work. I’m not ditching the old draft or dissing it: I hope I open it and find a slew of gifts. I know there are labored-over sentences, paragraphs, maybe occasional whole pages which I can steal from myself. I hold this out as reward and expect to cut and paste and join the two drafts.

Sometimes blankness makes me antsy. It can drive me to the fridge too often. As the boss of my writing, I set rules, but I also offer loopholes. I think I might work my way through a chapter, then open the old folder and peek or help myself to words. We’ll see. Sometimes just telling myself “you don’t have to” is enough to keep me on track, though I doubt I’ll make it through the whole short-ish (150 pages) book this way.

For now my goal is to spend some days close to my character’s feelings and free will. I’m heading back to white paper where it’s just me and my girl. Going into free fall, enjoying the ride.

(Tracy, thanks for asking! Let me know if you have more questions!)

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Responses

  1. Wow, this is gutsy, Jeannine. And this:
    “Sometimes blankness makes me antsy. It can drive me to the fridge too often.”
    sounds waaaay too familiar to me. 🙂

  2. Well it might be gusty if I didn’t offer myself possible outs.
    I’m trying to think of it as playing. And it is kind of fun and messy.

  3. Another beautiful post. And looks like we might be on that same blank page. I have an urge to go to that blank page myself – when in the past that blank page has terrified me.

  4. No lie, white space can be scary. Breathe, breathe, and let what happens happen. We can always go back and play around with our print… a little later. xo

  5. I’ve found more and more that, if I’m struggling with a scene or chapter, the blank page is the only way to revise. Maybe it’s a rewrite instead of a revision? When I open up an existing file and look at it, I’m still playing with the words, instead–as you say–with the big things that need to change.
    Have a great day on the roller coaster–all whees! and no bad screams, I hope. 🙂

  6. Yes, makes sense to call it something other than revision. And you’re my hero here! I remember you doing this with your novel.
    And I’ll try hard not to scream and disturb the animals!

  7. Oh, this is wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing your process with me.
    “I know where E. is, who she will meet, where she’s going and some of the blocks in her way, but I’m offering space within chapters, or how E. spends her hours and days, which, of course, could change the whole.” This is the line that helped me truly understand your approach. Wow.

  8. Thank you! Glad it’s spurring you onward, and it’s fun for me to try to explain what it is I’m doing, or trying to do.

  9. Interesting approach! (and brave)

  10. Thanks, although I think I’ve got too many parachutes at the ready to be called brave. And my other attempts haven’t worked so well, so here’s something to try.


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