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Fearing the Blank Page: Why Writing Doesn’t Have to Be All About Perfection

The first journal I ever received that I actually wrote in and completed was given to me after my grandmother died. I was standing in my living room when my aunt approached me, handed me a small paperback book with a white carnation stamped on the front of it, and asked me to write. At the time, I wasn't sure why she was giving me a gift the day after the death of my grandmother, and I wasn't entirely sure what to write about. When I told her so, she pressed it into my hands along with a silver ballpoint pen and told me, "Give all that sadness someplace safe to live, where it can exist without hurting you.

I didn't fully understand the intensity of what she had said at the time but started writing in it that night nevertheless. It wasn't easy to get the first word onto the page. The blue lines running across the white paper reminded me of rivers that I'd never be able to cross. My fingers shook as I held the pen, and I tried to make up excuses so I wouldn't have to write. The further the day went on, the more I saw the journal sitting there out of the corner of my vision. I wanted to write. I just didn't know what to put down on the page. 

[bf_image id="9tnvrgp8ck7gg97bjvvg8pnc"] I was a perfectionist from the moment I learned how to spell and hold a pen enough to make it write smoothly. I fretted if the sentences I wrote didn't run straight across the unlined page. I didn't want to write anything that didn't make sense. I wanted every story to have a happy ending, wrapped in a bow and dipped in sunshine. It was important to me that everything I wrote was written for some sort of grand purpose, and anything less than that was unsatisfactory and ended up with my bedroom trash can for a home. Writing in this journal given to me to host all the feelings I had within me after my grandmother passed felt like a Herculean task; one that required every ounce of energy and nothing short of perfection. I quickly found out that no matter what I wrote, I was never satisfied. I was trying to channel authors in books I read for school. I was trying to channel the way my mother would speak after a tragedy; clipped words and ever-positive thinking mixed with realism. I was using fancy words to seem like I knew what I was talking about when in reality, everything seemed lonely and terrifying and I frankly could not even find words to describe the feeling.  [bf_image id="rfvq369qmf8vkq5qwtgh72n"]

It was only after I started writing stream-of-consciousness thoughts late at night that I finally felt free of my emotions. Writing flowery language and constant positivity did not help me. The only thing I had succeeded in doing was creating something that did not resemble me at all. I wrote about my sadness and how it felt like I was trapped in a tomb. I wrote about how I had expected the day she died to be rainy and cold, but it had been the third day of my spring break and it was sunny and the best weather we had gotten all week. I wrote about everything and nothing, and by the time I was done my handwriting had turned into unrecognizable scribbles that ran all over the page, there were eraser smudges and spelling mistakes. But the sadness had a new home, and looking down at the mess before me, for once, did not make me want to tear the page out. In fact, I just wanted to read it over and over again like a mantra, and continue the next day. 

And continue I did. By the time that journal ended, it was nowhere near what I as a writer expected it to be. It was far from perfect, but it was raw, genuine, and honest. That's what writing should be all about; honesty. Who the author is should be woven into the words that have been written, because that's the only way you can ensure that the writing came from you. Creativity is a sign of a person placing the essence of them onto the page and allowing it to grow in the most genuine way possible. There is no way to reach absolute satisfaction when you're sitting there wearing a mask, trying to hide your feelings, and strive for spotlessness and perfection. 

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My favorite things I've written have come from chicken-scratch scribbles late at night, or from words that I've jotted onto a napkin while studying at a cafe with my friends. They almost never come from me sitting down to write and attempting to be a different person just to make my words sound perfect. It can be terrifying to sit before a blank page, look at all that space, and immediately wonder, "How am I going to fill that up with something that makes me proud?"

The best way to do so is through honesty. Write something even though you're terrified of what might come out because it might be your favorite thing that you've ever placed onto a page. Starting it is always the scary part. Once you find your rhythm and lean into it, you'll be producing original, creative work that consistently brings you joy and peace.  

My top 3 tips for helping you fall into the rhythm of writing: 

1) Writing stream-of-conscious thoughts for about two minutes, timed. Go back and re-read what you wrote, highlight anything that you think is interesting, and then expand on that for another minute. 

2) Use a writing prompt if you have absolutely no ideas. You can either make these yourself or go online. Find something you think is interesting, and start writing! 

3) Find an emotion that you're feeling and make a list of all the things that are leading to you feeling that way. Expand on it, see what happens. 

Life is difficult right now. There are so many feelings bouncing all around us that they barely have anywhere to go. Pick up your pen, look down at your paper, understand that it is okay to feel overwhelmed before beginning, and then start writing anyway. Give all those feelings a home.

Rachel Prince

Amherst '22

Rachel Prince is a senior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is part of the Honors College, majoring in Neuroscience with the hope of becoming a doctor later in life. She loves playing the piano, creative writing, singing, and riding her bike at sunset. When she is not busy hanging out with her friends, she is planning out her next roadtrip, creating smoothie recipes, or trying to a find a new book to read.
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