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10 January 2012 ·

The writer’s curse: fear of the blank page

I think every writer knows the paralysing fear of the blank page or screen. (Maybe paralysis is the wrong word: often this fear drives me to other scintillating and suddenly urgent tasks, like sorting out files or cleaning the oven.) But I was amused to find that even  starting the drawing  I talked about yesterday – the story map that was just for me, that would never be seen by anyone else – held this same fear.

Because I have to admit I lied. I said I was doing the drawing, and I had the paper out, and I was going to do it just as soon as I finished the post. That part was all honest.

But somehow I didn’t. Somehow it was time to walk the dog, and then make dinner, and I couldn’t possibly do it after that because it was too late, and I wasn’t alone in the house, and, and, and…

So this morning I made it my priority. I put on meditative music, made my coffee, and started scribbling. I used scrap paper to remind myself that it was just scribbling, that I would be throwing out many pages before I worked out what I wanted.

And it worked. That’s the amazing bit. I certainly don’t have a beautiful map: I have several pages of scribbles, with different shapes, lines and arrows,  East-West-North-South crossed out and replaced as I worked out where I wanted the sun to rise. But I now have a much better idea of what this landscape and its buildings are like, and therefore of the story.  In the end I worked for about four hours, as the map details led me to questions, and so to reference books and google, where a  picture or item started another question or chain of thought…

We don’t all work the same way. But one thing always holds true: at some point you have to start. And it doesn’t matter how small the start is, it’ll never be so scary again.

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Wendy Orr is a Canadian-born Australian writer. Her books for children and adults have been published in 27 countries and won awards around the world. Nim’s Island and Nim at Sea have also become feature films, starring Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (Nim’s Island) and Bindi Irwin (Return to Nim’s Island.) Her latest book is Cuckoo’s Flight, a companion to the highly acclaimed Bronze Age novels Dragonfly Song and Swallow’s Dance. Read full bio