My eldest daughter came home from her first writing class rather baffled.
“Free writing,” the 10-year-old told me. “That’s what we had to do.”
She showed me her notebook with her attempt. She had written sentences about not knowing what to write followed by others expressing her adoration for her favorite pop band One Direction. Then more sentences about what on earth could she write.
“That’s a good start,” I said.
“No it isn’t,” she contested. “There’s no story.”
I explained that the point of free writing was to write whatever comes to your head and as you go a story may take form and you can follow it through to the end.
She looked down at her notebook, perused the sentences and then looked up at me sternly.
“Well, it didn’t work,” she said.
I thought for a moment about what it takes to write. I write everyday. It’s my job to write stories. I’ve written thousands as a journalist, fewer as fiction.
But my daughter has a point about not knowing what to write, to fear a blank page. There’s a name for it in the industry: writer’s block. The blank page can be scary. Where to begin? I usually do my thinking about what could be told and then start constructing sentences in my head. Then I put it down on paper, often in a fury on scraps of paper. That makes filling in a blank page on my computer screen a lot easier. But how do you get the story in the first place? Experiences, for one thing. This, that and the other can inspire. A cat’s persistence in begging for food, a pickpocket on the subway, a lover’s squabble, an abandoned car.
As I thought about stories, my daughter, now totally off the subject of writing, said, “Hey, what if time stopped but we kept going, but just us, and everybody else stopped, and we could do anything we wanted…”
She carried on with her idea and I thought, that’s a fine story to tell.