You Can’t Edit a Blank Page

This saying has been credited to many authors and I can’t find the original. I do believe it’s true, though.

The newest member of my writing group stated she had a story she had been writing in her head, and alarms went off in my head. How can she think she’s writing if it hasn’t left her head?

Perhaps it’s fortunate I curbed my tongue. I did want her to come back. She seems like a good addition to the group.

However, I am wary of those who think they can create stories – which are made for sharing – without writing them down. A first draft is usually crap. It’s allowed to be crap. Perhaps even supposed to be crap.

That’s why re-writing and editing exist – to cure the first draft into something wonderful.

I know some first drafts are pretty amazing. I have a friend who puts my first drafts to shame. It’s not a mark of a good writer vs. a bad writer, just that our starting points are different. We both rework our manuscripts until they shine. At the end, we have styles that change our work and voices that speak to the reader. We hope they’re clear and emotionally moving.

Sometimes we succeed.

Other times we scrap a project as not worthy. It’s just part of the process. But if we’d never written a word, we’d never know. And neither would those who read our work be able to share in the story we create.

Some of these sayings are popular for good reason. Imagine a plain white sheet of paper with red dots all over it. Meaningless without the (presumably) black text underneath. Because of this, I give myself permission to make bad first drafts. I just want the story to shine through, and it might take a few tries.

I haven’t failed until I quit trying, and I count it as forward progress as long as my pages aren’t blank.

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4 Comments

  1. Jamie said,

    24 May 2010 at 10:10

    I like the saying that good writing is actually re-writing. Writing crap is fun. It allows us to do things that can’t really work but we want to try anyway.

  2. Vivian Zabel said,

    24 May 2010 at 10:10

    I had students who thought a blank sheet of paper had been edited. Ish.

    I do write my stories in my head, but then I put them on the computer screen.

  3. ransomnoble said,

    24 May 2010 at 10:57

    That’s a good saying, too, Jamie. I’ll have to find it and add it to my collection.

  4. ransomnoble said,

    24 May 2010 at 10:59

    Silly students. Yes, but my point was they do get written down. Perhaps not on paper as in the past, but recorded. And fixed.


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