The Empty Page

In the literary world, there is no cliche more timeworn and banal than the empty page. Countless movies and television shows have portrayed this inconspicuous menace in all its unvarnished glory. You’ve all seen it, I’m sure. The eight-and-a-half by eleven crisp sheet tucked neatly into a typewriter. It’s self-important barrenness, mocking the timid writer. Or more recently, the pale, vacuous computer screen. Vacant, besides the black, thin yet sinister cursor. The one blinking in wait. Tempting and taunting. Daring you to take a shot. Condemning you for balking. Judging and teasing. C’mon, it appears to be asking. Let’s see what you got?

Fucking terrifying.

Or is it?

On my best of days, I approach the blank screen with youthful optimism. The emptiness is nothing more than opportunity, I reason. Think of all the potential. Of all the possibility. The page is dawn, and there lies a glorious day ahead. One rife with adventure, discovery, pain, laughter, and who knows what else. It’s all there on that amiable, welcoming empty page. Literally, new worlds can spring to life upon it. Characters born to live and breathe and think and philosophize. Ideas that can affect societal and personal change and growth will call it home, their shelter providing for them a platform for a voice that must be heard. In fact, the page isn’t¬†threatening. It isn’t the danger. It’s in danger, as what I – all powerful writer that I am – plan to do to it isn’t for the faint of heart. I, on my best day remember, aim to ravish that page. I am going to rain down upon it with great vengeance and furious anger, thrashin it with novel thoughts and meticulously constructed sentences awash with clever wordplay and enlightening metaphors and similes. The empty page, the fresh start we’ve always wanted.

On my worst of days however…

Well, stereotypes have been found to exist for a reason. Usually. There persists exceptions to any rule concerning human nature, and broad generalizations are limiting in general, never fully encompassing reality. But I will be damned if stereotypes don’t nail it from time to time. And true to form, a blank page, screen, or canvas has the potential to make a heart skip a beat. My heart in particular, especially when you overthink it. When you allow yourself the instance to dwell on the amount of work it’s going to take to get it right, to shape things exactly as you want it to be. When you succumb to doubt about the worthiness of your take, of your story, or in the ability to frame it as you imagine it to be. The grind is real, for most of us anyways. And the empty page is an unmistakable warning of the arduous journey ahead.

But I have found that the truth of the matter always lies somewhere in the middle. Hyperbole is king, but a shitty one with no respect for fact. It’s rare when I find myself within a day that I would label as my best, and luckily, most of my days would never fall under the categorization of worst. Life is complex, and so is the empty page.

So it is that the empty page is what you make it. How you choose to perceive it is what it manifests itself as. It’s funny in that way, as everything about its existence is malleable – right down to its very essence. And on most days, I find that barren space to be incredibly inviting, yet at the same time, imploring me to come correct. And so, I must fight the good fight.

It begins for me with muddying the waters. That’s right. I make it promptly clear who is in charge and storm out the gate with purpose, but haphazard intent. The empty page yearns for words, and so I dispense with reckless abandon. Any thoughts or ideas I have in mind – sentences I have already crafted or even just words I am eager to use – I garnish the page with. Order doesn’t matter, just that the ingredients are aligned and ready for use. And thus, chaos reigns, and the result, admittedly, is often a jumbled mess. Something that requires more cleanup than is healthy to an efficient livelihood working with words. But a convoluted canvas is where I work best. It’s where I’m comfortable. I live and work amongst discord.

My desk looks exactly as you might imagine.


Michael Shields is a writer who resides in Brooklyn, New York. He is the Founder and Chief Editor of Across the Margin, a home for writers and wordsmiths who revere honesty and idolize wordplay.

Visit Michael at his magazine,

One thought on “The Empty Page”

  1. Great post Michael. I’ve found the method of getting things down works for me as well. It’s when you start to overthink things that it becomes harder. The longer it takes for you to type that first word, then the longer it takes to write a novel, etc. but if you just start typing, you’ll see results immediately. It’s funny how the human brain works like that.


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