You can’t edit a blank page

I’m always making resolutions about writing. A New Year, a new month, a new day – any way that I can create a demarcation point – I say to myself “from this moment forward I am going to be more focussed, more disciplined, more committed…” and then someone drops by or the phone rings and I am granted a reprieve from the obsessive business of getting a story finished. Or, more honesty, it’s not other people that keep me from my work. It’s me. I find my own distractions.

But today I’ve got few excuses (I can always find one or two) to not grab the manuscript and wrestle with its messy chapters. The house is quiet, I’ve unplugged the phone and I even have something to look forward to at the end of the day, which always helps me keep to the task at hand. This evening I’m off to listen to other writers talk about their Faraway Journeys at the State Library.

Of late I’ve done so much talking about writing myself that it’s chipped away at my ability to actually produce the words on the page. Sometimes the most arduous journey is walking along the short path through my garden to my office. Forcing myself to stay the distance with this particular project and not be lured away from the desk by a million temptations has been incredibly difficult.

I’ve been working on this manuscript for over three years now and its completion still feels like a mammoth task though it’s due in at my publishers in a matter of weeks. I have two quotes pinned above my desk that I think I need to re-read this morning. One says, in big bold letters: YOU CAN’T EDIT A BLANK PAGE. It’s a great quote which I’ve seen attributed to a dozen writers – perhaps it is such a truism that it’s impossible to know who said it first. The second quote is from one of my favourite authors, the 19th Century French novelist, Honore de Balzac. I first copied out this quote from his novel Cousin Bette when I was a teenager but I think it’s taken decades of writing for me to understand it fully:

The man who can formulate his design in words is held to be out of the common run of men. This faculty all artists and writers possess; but execution needs more than this. It means creating, bringing to birth, laboriously rearing the child, putting it to bed every evening gorged with milk, kissing it every morning with a mother’s never spent affection, licking it clean, clothing it over and over again in the prettiest garments, which it spoils again and again. It means never being disheartened by the upheavals of a frenetic life, but making of the growing work of art a living masterpiece, which in sculpture speaks to all eyes, in literature to all minds, in painting to all memories, in music to every heart. This is the travail of execution. The hand must constantly progress, in constant obedience to the mind.

Time to make the hand obey…

Kirsty is an Australian author of books for children and young adults.

“Every adult was once a child and the child inside them never completely disappears.”

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