The blank page is one of the most common, and one of the most daunting challenges of a writer. Setting out on a new project, with nothing but an empty space and the desire to fill it, can be crushing stuff. Paul Thomas Anderson, for one, has made it his business never to start with just a blank page; he avoids it like the plague.
In this short video from The Narrative Art, a YouTube channel which posts truncated clips featuring writing advice from talented novelists, poets, and screenwriters, P.T.A. explains a phenomenon he has incorporated into his writing strategy.
It’s a position you never want to find yourself in, and so, P.T.A. describes how he “puts chips in” to always have the cushion of at least a little progress before settling in to begin writing on a new script. Coming off of a project, still in post-production, there is a false sense of energy which propels him to get straight into a new one.
Running on the creative energy he’s been fostering during the filming of his last movie, P.T.A. will begin to jot down ideas, the elements of a story taking shape, without properly settling in to commit to writing. The exhaustion does catch up with him in time, but progress has been made. When he finds he’s recuperated and is ready to devote himself to full-time writing, that progress is a godsend.
The purpose of P.T.A.’s parable is to communicate that starting with nothing when you’re committing full-time to getting writing done is a terrible place to get stuck. A writer should apply the frisson of energy gathered from other outlets, work, or whatever else bolsters those creative juices, into developing their idea and spending some time with it.
Anderson’s pattern may include a sort of post-filmmaking-hibernation, but for a prospective writer the advice bears fruit as well. P.T.A. is in the business of exalting daydreams, of allowing the pieces of a story to develop naturally, without the restraints of a writing routine, or goal, and any such pressure-mounting exercise, before taking the plunge.
Begin with too little, and you may stifle creative impulses without realising it. A great story hardly ever comes about because a writer had to get some work done today. Divorce the inception of ideas which interest you, or have potential, from the prospect of immediately setting out to work out the story proper. Gather your daydreams, so that when you come to that intimidating stare-down with your blank page, you’re armed with ideas formed in the midst of creative break out, not exhaustive typing work.