Page Fright — The Struggle is Real

You know that thing where you are all “I’m totally ready to write my NaNoWriMo* pages today!” and you’ve got your writing pants on, and your beverage of choice at hand, and the dogs have been fed, and your phone is on Do Not Disturb, then you sit down at your desk, pop open your document, take one look at that empty white screen and your mind goes totally blank?

It’s the exact same feeling when you’ve practiced your speech/lines/talking points until you’ve got them down cold, but you step out on stage and all of a sudden you can’t even remember your name.

Page Fright. Sometimes known as Blank Page Syndrome.

mac image

Flickr Image by David Michalczuk under the Creative Commons License

Should you experience Page Fright, the first thing to remember is, Don’t Panic. It’s an acute but temporary condition. It arises from the same mechanism as the more chronic Writer’s Nerve Block—that is, fear and self-doubt.

Remember back when you went to sign someone’s yearbook or a greeting card, and you planned to say something clever but once your pen is over the paper, and the pressure is on because the bell is about to ring, and you don’t want to write something lame, but your mind is blank, “Have a nice summer”?

Maybe it’s some sort of genetic memory from the days of typewriters and correction ribbon, or back when monks hunched over scrolls, when making a mark on the page was a big commitment. But it’s real, if irrational, and an irrational condition cannot be reasoned with. You have to resort to trickery and mind games. Some of the tips below might seem silly, but I’m willing to bet one of these things will work for you, as sure as I am that the notes on the treble clef are Every Good Boy Does Fine.**

When a blank page makes your mind go blank, too, try these tricks:

  • Make a list. Write your protagonists To Do list. Things in your POV character’s pocket/purse/backpack. Start the scene with them using one or more of those things.
  • Describe the setting in detail, using all the senses. Get as detailed as you want or as you can. Bring the description in toward the protagonist like a camera. Or, start small and expand outward to find your character doing the first thing they need to accomplish in that scene.
  • Type nonsense for half the page until it’s not blank anymore.
  • Write some dialogue. Have two characters talk about the weather until the scene interrupts them.
  • Set a timer for five minutes, put your pen on the paper (or fingers on the keyboard) and don’t pick it/them up until the timer dings. Type anything. You can start with: I don’t know what happens in this scene, but I know that… (example: Mary and John have a fight about Susan. It all starts when Mary picks up a glass of water and…)
  • Start the scene with a pen and paper, then it’s already begun and when you transcribe it into the computer, you’ve got momentum.

Page fright is a pretty specific type of “Writer’s Block.” (Of course, Writer’s Block doesn’t really exist. I say this all the time, even when I’m suffering from it.) “Just write” is easy to say but hard to do sometimes. These tips are meant to get your fingers and brain moving so that you build momentum to carry you into the scene/days work.

(And hey, if you’re not writing a novel this month (or ever) these will ALSO help when you don’t know where to start writing your English paper or History essay. Just remember to go back and edit out your nonsense before you turn it in!)

*I do this thing whereI assume everyone else sips the same nectar from the social media fountain as I do, so I’ll launch into a tirade talk about something and get blank looks. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is one of those things. But if you’re reading this blog, you are probably tapped into Book World enough that you know this is where people try to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November, and if you don’t you can click on the bold link and read about it. It’s kind of like Movember, except at the end of the month you have a book (or half a book) instead of a caterpillar on your lip. (Or you might have that, too. The last week of writing can be a little all-consuming. I don’t judge.)

**Mnemonic devices are also mind games. Face it. Half of writing is gaming our brain into the right state of… well, you know. 

And Texas is slang for “crazy.”

So, in Norway, when something is completely nuts, it’s Texas. As in, “der var helt texas,” or, “that’s totally texas.” (Yes, lower case. Because it’s an adjective. Duh.)

I don't know what's in this picture, but apparently it's pretty awesomely out of control.

I don’t know what’s in this picture, but apparently it’s pretty awesomely out of control.

Now, mind you, a situation can be totally texas, but not a person. Which is an interesting (and oddly logical) distinction. Here’s the tumbler post that brought this to the attention of Texas Monthly:


Clearly someone in Norway has once been to a meeting of our state legislature.

I’ll just cite the Texas Monthly article that cites and example of a fisherman telling the local news about the rare sverdfisk he caught in Northern Norway. (Oh hey! THAT’S what that picture is about) “I heard a loud noise from the bay, but I did not know where it came from right away. Thirty seconds to a minute later it jumped out in the fjord. I got to see some of it before I took up the camera,” he says and continues: “It was totally texas!”

Maybe this isn’t as funny to people who aren’t from Texas. It’s just so random and yet so utterly perfect. The logic goes “Texas” (the state) = “the Wild West” = “totally bonkers.” Which about sums things up, from Austin hipsters to big trucks to Texas Longhorn football games, and yes, even blowhards. Everything is bigger (and nuttier) in Texas.

det var helt texas gothic

Maytag Neptune Unleashes Kraken in Laundry Room. News at Eleven.

Go home, Washing Machine. You're Drunk.

Image from reddit. I presume it came from somewhere else first. #memeappropriation

My day so far:

  • Feed and take care of Business with my dog.
  • Pour coffee, open news feed.
  • Mom and her dog come downstairs. Feed and take care of Business w/both dogs.
  • Warm up coffee, reopen sleeping news feed.
  • Mom starts laundry.
  • Ungodly noise from washer.
  • Bang around on washer. Seems to still be working?
  • Cross fingers
  • Ungodly noise continues.
  • Throw out first coffee. Pour fresh mug.
  • Give up on news, open work email.
  • Ungodly noise continues.
  • Open WIP file. Put on headphones and white noise.
  • Ungodly noise stops. So does washing machine.
  • Look up error code online. Curse.
  • Look up service manual online–Maytag has discontinued washer and does not keep that SM online. Curse.
  • Google “Washing Machine Repair.”
  • Look up bank balance.
  • Curse.
  • Explain to Mom she will have to go to Laundromat.
  • Explain Laundromats have improved since 1975.
  • Open WIP file. Put on headphones and white noise.
  • Stop and look up Laundromat with excellent Yelp Reviews.
  • Open WIP file.
  • Stop and look up directions to Laundromat with excellent Yelp reviews.
  • Open WIP file.
  • Stop and tote Mom!laundry to Mom!car. Instruct her not to try and carry into laundromat all in at once so as not to hurt herself.
  • Realize Mom will ignore me.
  • Realize there’s nothing I can do about it.
  • Open WIP file.
  • Sit in quiet, peaceful house and stare at screen.
  • Stare some more.
  • Blog about this like it’s important.

The thing about setting up house is that because you get most of your appliances at the same time, they will inevitable start needing repair about the same time.

That’s the only Profound Truth I have for you this morning.

Moving All The Things

Some days nothing will help but that you rearrange all your furniture. Friends PIVOT

Okay, not all my furniture. But after two years of it driving me crazy to have my back to the room when I sat at my desk, I literally stood there with my cup of coffee yesterday morning and was like, I could move the couch over, get rid of that massive hutch thing, and turn the desk perpendicular to the wall. Done and done.

I may have been procrastinating work. But I do like this about a hundred times better.

Once I got it out in the middle of the room (something that has to be done if you’re going to turn a honking big piece of furniture around, I laid down on it, and Mom looked down from upstairs (I keep her in the attic, like Mrs. Rochester) and said, that thing is exactly as long as you are. Which is not really that impressive. Also, what she may actually have said was more like, “What God’s name are you doing down there?” Then she said the desk thing.

My Space

This is literally one third of the desk I used to have in the old house, and though it took up a good bit of my old study, there were also three bookcases and a small sofa (and large ottoman) in there. And it was one of the smaller rooms in the house. (For those of you who tuned in during the last two years, I downsized my life drastically in 2013, from a big house with two attics and a giant garage to a small townhouse with no attics and no garage. It did come with a mom, in case you were wondering what that Mrs. Rochester business was about.)

On one hand, it seems impossible I’ve lived in this place for two years. (For one thing, there’s still some boxes I haven’t unpacked. Or as I like to call them, “my nightstand.”) On the other, my memories of the old house are fuzzy and oddly foreign, like it’s a place I visited once. The brain is weird.

Now, it’s back to work. Or possibly I’ll keep looking on Pinterest for my perfect office.

Perfect Office

Leonardo’s To Do List and Michelangelo’s Groceries

I really like lists.

Leonardo da Vinci's To Do List circa 1490 (direct translation, amendments in brackets by Robert Krulwich). Illustration by Wendy Macnaughton for NPR. Original Article here.

Leonardo da Vinci’s To Do List circa 1490 (direct translation, amendments in brackets by Robert Krulwich). Illustration by Wendy Macnaughton for NPR. Original Article here.

Lists, timelines, graphs, charts…not because I’m the most methodical of people, but precisely because I’m not. There’s always a lot going on in noggin, and it’s not terribly orderly in there. The big ideas are kind of wibbly wobbly all over time and space, and the little idea are sort of this gnat like cloud around my head.

I’ve always kept a sort of catchall journal. My packing list for World Con will be right next to my character notes for Splendor Falls and a (terrible) sketch of the layout of Bluestone Hill.  A reminder to get dog food is on the back of the page that has the Goodnight family tree which is next to my notes about who I’m going to vote for in the next election. It’s a little willy nilly, but it’s the way I’ve done it for ten years, and the notebooks are lined up on my shelf.

Recently, as part of an ongoing quest not to forget so many things, I’ve been on a quest to find The Perfect System that works with my system. The smartphone is great, because there’s nothing like something that will ding at you. But there’s also nothing like paper for permanence. In college, I used to study by rewriting my class notes into a neat outline. By the time I was done, I knew the material. I am much more likely to remember something I write by hand than enter in my phone. (Which is not to say I’ll remember it, just that I’m more likely.)

There’s the idea of physical permanence, too. When I look through a previous year’s notebook, it’s interested to see where my head was at a particular moment, or what I was dealing with while I wrote X book, or what I thought was important to remember from Y conference. I’ve found ideas jotted down on paper napkins, and business cards from people I’ve met (sometimes I’ll even remember who they were). Sometimes I’m impressed with my brilliance. Sometimes I wonder why on earth I though I needed to pack three sweaters to go to Alabama in October.

I remember finding a stack of letters that a great-great-aunt wrote in the early 19th century. Genealogy is great, but reading Audrey describe her train trip to Palacios and ask if Rosemary (!!) has recovered yet from her cold, made her a real person.

Da Vinci's packing list.

Da Vinci’s packing list. “Get hold of a skull.” (Image from an article in The Daily Mail)

The illustration at the top is a direct translation of a recently discovered (well, recent in 2011) “to do list” jotted down by Leonardo da Vinci. I mean, that guy wrote everything down. But It makes me happy to know sometimes he wrote it down just for himself.

Da Vinci’s notebooks are a record of his genius and all, but this packing list sketches a more personal picture. No pun intended. (Okay, yeah, pun totally intended.) “Spectacles with Case. Human skull. Nutmeg.” I’m sorry, but how awesome is it that “nutmeg” seems like the oddest thing on this list.

Michelangelo's Shopping List (image credit: Casa Buonarroti)

Michelangelo’s Shopping List (image credit: Casa Buonarroti)

Then there’s Michelangelo’s grocery list, which he had to illustrate because his servant couldn’t read. Let’s just think about that for a sec. This is a grocery list illustrated by the painter of the Sistine Chapel. And we know he liked herring and anchovies. Yum.

Not that I’m comparing myself to Leonardo or Michelangelo (even in a Mutant Ninja Turtle sense). I’m not jotting things down for posterity… just to remember them after I’ve slept and cleared the data banks.

I mean, I have to do something so I can get on with the business of being a genius!

Edited to add: I came across this in my quest for the Perfect System. (Pinterest, incidentally, was so helpful that it was not helpful.) Twelve types of journals you can keep. 

Are you a lister? Is yours one of those planners covered in colored pen and washi tape? What kinds of things do you like to write down? (Typing counts, too!)

All. The. Feels. — IF I STAY on Movie Monday

IF I STAY has been on my list to watch ever since it came out on video (it’s on Netflix right now) but I knew that was going to need the right mood and moment. Though I have not (to my shame) read the extremely well reviewed book by Gayle Foreman, I knew what I was getting into. (This is not a spoiler—Mia’s family was in a car crash, and she is in a coma deciding whether to stay or go. She relives the past that got her where she is, and watches the present as those she love gather around her.)


“Heartstrings” courtesy of Sean Molin on Flickr under Creative Commons license (source)

I knew I couldn’t watch this in a movie theater. I knew I couldn’t watch it when my Mom was around, or right before bed, or in the middle of the day when I’d have to go be productive after. But last night, I had the house to myself, the evening off, and a blog I needed to revive.

I expected to need Kleenex (see description above). I did not expect to completely lose my shit. I’m not just talking sobbing. I’m talking gasping, shaking, and the occasional un-stifle-able keening cry. If I hadn’t been alone, it would have been mortifying.

Before you say, “God, that sounds awful,” I should explain that it was emotional, and beautiful, and ultimately hopeful and up-lifting. But for me, it cracked open that shell I keep around the loss of my brother and father, and that that grief, love, and loss came pouring out as if I were there again in the hospital. It’s not just the loss, it was everything–the vigil at the hospital, the disbelief, the anger, and finally that moment when you have to say to the person you love, “It’s okay to go.”

Which is what this story is really about–staying or going. Keeping to the course you’re on, or taking a new direction. It’s a theme that happens over and over, by characters in the past and the present, in little decisions and big ones. It’s beautiful, and it’s elementally Young Adult in nature. It’s about change.

The thing I loved most (and what spoke to me most, as someone who has so much anxiety about change) was the idea that there are no right or wrong choices. There’s only option A or option B; both can be happy, and both will have a measure of pain.  I read and write mostly genre fiction, where there’s a strong element of fate, and destiny, and pulling the sword from the stone, and what not. So this idea that both options can be satisfying in a different way is what made this such a realistic story.

I like moves that give me lots of thinky thoughts, and IF I STAY. I really do recommend it. Not everyone will find it so painful, I just have certain triggers.  I thought several times about stopping the movie, but I had to watch to the end. My objective brain wanted to see how the creators ended the story. My subjective brain knew that Mia’s decision didn’t matter–she wins either way, and she loses something either way.

The WHY of Your Story


I feel like a sloth for breaking my blog silence with a reblog. But it’s from DFW Writer’s Workshop, and it has something really key to say about writing, even if it was written by my arch-nemesis A. Lee Martinez.

Emotional intent is what turns a plot into a story. It’s simple, but sometimes hard to explain, and ALM does a great job. Even if you’re not a writer, you might find it interesting to know why some scenes connect with your gut, and some never get past your head.

See you on the flip side, peeps. –Rosemary

Originally posted on DFW Writers Workshop:

The first thing you should ask yourself is why?

A. Lee Martinez A. Lee Martinez

Writing isn’t as simple as putting down words on paper. If it was, everyone would be doing it, and at times, it feels like everyone thinks they can. If we’re talking about sitting in front of a keyboard and typing until you have a few pages, then, yes, everyone can do it. There’s a difference between doing it and doing it well.

Asking why is that difference.

Let’s stick with fiction for the moment. Much of this applies to non-fiction as well, but it’s easier to focus on one right now. Fiction is, generally, a series of scenes that string together to form an overarching story. All basic stuff, you might think, but you would be wrong.

The Why (capital W from this point on) is Why this scene must exist in the first place. Your initial answer…

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