Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Blank Stair

Never Be Intimidated By A Blank Piece Of Paper

Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON

When diXymiss, who writes the blog ineXplicable, challenged me to photograph a blank piece of paper, I immediately went through two or three visual options and thought I would experiment with each of them this weekend.

Then I thought I would take the challenge one step further, for the benefit of writers, artists and anyone with a creative instinct, irrespective of age or geographical location.

I was going to shoot a single sheet of standard white A4 paper when I spotted some of the coloured A4 paper that one of the Authorbloglets was using recently. There was red, there was yellow, there was blue. That's when I decided to take a sheet of the blue paper and stick it on the tray of my HP Photosmart 8230 printer, because I thought the hue would be a perfect match for the colour of the printer.

As I did so, I noticed that the bright winter sunlight was streaming through the windows of my study, throwing a beautiful gradation across the paper. Lucky choice, huh!

I write this in the hope that it might inspire some of you, who in turn will use your experience and your knowledge to guide and mould the aspirations of others, somewhere in the world.

After all, creativity is a two-stage process. First we need to recognise creativity. Next we need to nurture it. Having been blessed throughout my earliest years by people who did precisely that for me, I guess it is now my turn to pass on my thoughts.

How do you look at a blank sheet of paper?

I reckon there are two types of people. The first category are those who are nervous of the challenge presented by a blank piece of paper. And the second category are those who relish the prospect of imprinting their own creative instinct on the paper.

For the benefit of those readers who don’t know me too well, I paint, I sketch, I write and I take photographs. I rub my hands with glee when I see a blank piece of paper.

As a career journalist, I often get asked the question: "What is the most difficult thing to write?" For a tough question, it has a surprisingly easy answer. The most difficult thing to write is an opening sentence. Once you have that in place, everything else will follow.

The opening sentence of my first novel, Vegemite Vindaloo, is a modern twist on one of the most famous lines of Australian poetry. Andrew Barton "Banjo" Paterson wrote "There was movement at the station" as the opening of his wonderful bush ballad The Man From Snowy River. I humbly borrowed it from him and applied it to a contemporary railway station instead.

The opening sentence of my forthcoming novel, Muskoka Maharani, is a pun on a famous quote from Mark Twain. (Nope, I’m not going to tell you what it is, because the novel hasn’t been released yet - but I’m not stopping you from guessing!)

Whether you’re writing a blogpost, working on a novel, creating a sketch or forming a painting, you follow the same process as a builder. Each of those is an ancient art. Each of those is an ancient craft. Each of those is a separate challenge. But just remember this - if your foundation is strong enough, the rest of the structure takes care of itself.

This week I had a long conversation with a very gifted blogger, one of my many friends around the world who is writing a book. She had a major problem. It wasn’t writer’s block. It wasn’t that she had run out of inspiration. But her confidence had been rattled by a well-meaning assessment from someone else. So she went out and bought some how-to-write-novels books and told me she would finish reading them before she resumed writing.

I had some simple advice for her. I told her to mulch the books in one of her many immaculate garden beds.

Why would I tell her something like that? Not because I don’t trust how-to books. Don’t get me wrong. They’re always a valuable resource. But I knew that she didn’t need to be told how to write. You see, I’ve read enough of her writing over the past year to know that she is a wonderful writer.

I didn’t want her to try and write a novel from a contrived point of view, or from someone else’s point of view. Instead, I wanted her to follow her own instincts.

Spontaneity is a great gift for any creative person. And this friend of mine is so good that she doesn’t need to be told how to project her story.

In short, there is only one person who can tell your story/ paint your picture/ take your photograph. One person alone. And that’s you.

Trust your creative instinct. Put your first mark on a blank sheet of paper. You’ll be surprised at how wonderful an experience it is.

Write with freedom. Write with honesty. But most of all, write with joy.


Kim said...

Things looks like a fun challenge. I think I'll attempt something when I get home tonight :)

I love the blue, it was definitely the right choice.

dixymiss said...

A most eXcellent response, Sir David! I am thrilled that you accepted my challenge and completely delighted with the photography, as well as the inspirational essay. This line, in particular, resonates: "Trust your creative instinct. Put your first mark on a blank sheet of paper. You’ll be surprised at how wonderful an eXperience it is."

ThanX for the generous response! You inspire.

(sighing with satisfaction),

Colin Campbell said...

Great advice David. Too often we look for outside inspiration when we have lived for so long and have so much inspiration waiting to come out. Who needs derivative advice. That is for instruction manuals for printers and the like.

Jules~ said...

So wonderful David. When I initially read the challenge, I thought....white paper. But upon reading further you encouraged me to know that guideline was a self inflicted one. No where does the challenge say anything about what color paper to use. That goes for all things creative and for thinking in general as well. So much of the time, the things we think and act on are because of our own self induced perameters. Thank you for the lesson reminder today.

MamaGeek @ Works For Us said...

Beautiful beautiful beautiful! I'd say well done and your sentiment rings true.

Jenn: said...

What a great challange both from your friend to photograph a blank piece of paper and from you in the last couple lines.

SandraRee said...

Thanks for this post, David! :)

lime said...

i'm so glad you were able to restore her confidence. i'm not trying to write a book but i so appreciate the confidence you've given me. i have no doubt it was a gift to her as well.

Anonymous said...

David, you are so so so very intelligent. Nowhere it was mentioned to use only a white paper and you took that advantage.

I read each & every post of yours through my reader but this one compelled me to come here and comment. :-)

And, I know who your blogger friend is. Even I am a big fan of her writings. Yes, you are right. She doesn't need anything to guide her in writing. :-)

Keep amazing us.


Kat said...

This post is just so inspirational, David. Thank you!

Question: Whose reflection is that in the upper left of the top pic?

Nessa said...

Pretty colors. I love to just touch paper. I buy it for no reason other than to just have it.

aims said...

Fantastic advice David....thank you for posting it here.

Georgina said...

David, I viewed and enjoyed your wonderful photos and what followed was a gift to everyone out there who thinks of themselves as a potential author.

I will never myself make a published author, but I truly believe that the only way to write is to live. To experience love, life, relationships, humour etc.

Wishing you all the best with your next novel. Debs x

Pappy said...

Love Banjo Paterson and Mark Twain. That was great advice to your writer friend. I liked your project finale. It was an interesting piece of blank paper. Pappy

Cath said...

That was just what I needed.
(No I am not the person David refers to in the post).
But it IS just what I needed.
Thank you.

And brilliant shots.

tlchang said...

Lovely post (could that paper be a more perfect shade of blue? The reflections are yummy). I'm experiencing camera (or more likely, camera-operator) envy.

Thanks for visiting my blog. Hi to Meresi

Hilary said...

Wonderfully done, and I'm totally not surprised.

Cheffie-Mom said...

Wow, WELL WRITTEN. GREAT ADVICE AND SO TRUE. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful photograph!

Unknown said...

David what a great piece and so inspiring, I love the way you take everyday objects and make them interesting - you have definitely inspired me.

I see a blank piece of paper as a great joy, as it challenges me to fill it with my thoughts. And as you wisely state often all it takes is that first line....

Btw I LMAO at your comment for the Hubster on 'where was my camera' and your m-in-l vacation!

Lotus Reads said...

Oooh, that blue is so beautiful! What an excellent piece of work David, so glad for the rest of us that you took on the challenge!

holly said...

you forgot TEA, david!

freedom, honesty, joy... and tea.

or have i been getting that wrong?

i should go a little easier on the ibuprofin, eh?

Texas Travelers said...

A blank canvas never bothered me but a blank sheet of paper is terrifying.

Great photo and response to the challenge.


becky aka theRAV said...

This is one of the most inspiring posts I have ever read, David and something I needed to hear at this stage or new crossroads in my life as I put my foot in the water to wade into the world of art as an artist. Thank you for this.

Sam Fox said...

Like you, David, blank is an opportunity, never scary. However it can be VERY scary to put yourself up for critique. Your advice is very sage. I'm sure you have touched many people with your words on today's post. What a pleasure it is to know you.

SandyCarlson said...

Great post, David. I like your take on creativity!

Les Becker said...

Blank paper still excites me... the blank screen with the blinking cursor, now.... whole 'nother story.

Diane said...

Bravo! I am standing up (as I type) and applauding. What a well written post David. Thank you~

Sandi McBride said...

To start with, wonderful photo of absolutely nothing. I've come to expect it from you. Good advice to your author friend. I had a college professor of English tell us over and over "write what you know"...sort of like the truth...if you tell it you don't have to think so hard when you're questioned on it!

Roxy Wishum said...

David, thank you for sharing inspiration and courage. I recently began reading some of the blogs you recommend and have found a few that are amazing. As a person who was raised to fear the blank page and has learned to love it, those of you who encourage creativity are a godsend.

Merisi said...

David, this is a wonderful post, I greatly appreciate the time and care you took to write this!
I shall visit Dixymiss, to get to know the source of inspiration and/or challenge.

No piece of paper is safe when I am around. I have a picture I shot late yesterday afternoon, by the poolside, watching the sun go down, and looking at a ... blank napkin. ;-)

Libbys Blog said...

Thank you for visiting me via Mrs N.
I have always admired anyone that could write a story, poem etc. I have always been in the group of 'I could never do that'! But reading your post has made me think again...... 'I could never do that...... but' lol!

Indrani said...

This is a very inspiring post David. Thought of actually looking up your post on kite, but this post kept saying read read read, read every line of it. :)

Rose said...

Silly as it sounds your words rocked me to my core - a bit. One thing that I have always struggled with is trusting my natural talent(s). More so, confidence in my abilities. Yup, the blank page has freaked me out more than once lately. A pattern I have in life - break out of the creative rut only to jump back in. (Well sometimes I stumble backwards and slip in.)

One of my all time favorite movies: Strictly Ballroom. Why? to quote, "A Life Lived in Fear is a Life Half Lived".

Thank you for reminding me not to let the blank page/canvas intimidate me. It's not a legacy I want to leave my son.

You are an inspirer and a mentor without even trying.

Lee said...

This is a lot of food for thought, David. It is definitely encouraging. I find it so easy to tell stories about my life. To me that's informational but yesterday someone I know called it creative. I guess its all in how you look at things.

So I'll ask you the same question I asked in my post Quick Shares. (concerning resumes) Do you think it would be okay to include blogging in your list of experiences or skills? And if so how? I know professional journalists often blog for their company. Is this an up and coming skill or just a hoped for one?


cheshire wife said...

The paper isn't really blank - it is a wonderful shade of blue. And thank you for your advice.

Woman in a Window said...

Absolutely. It's that first line, isn't it. Inspiration from without. It comes at the brain like a mosquito on a b-line.

RiverPoet said...

The hardest thing to do, as a writer, is to trust that your words are going to hit the mark. No, self-help books don't seem to work, but I've wasted much money on them. The recent mediocre review of my blog has even left me wondering about my abilities as any kind of writer, but I know that I've been at this for a lifetime. Even if I'm not a huge success, it's the talent I've been given.

Love reading your blog, David. I always learn something new.

Peace - D

San said...

Magnificent post, David! Thank you for telling me about it. You're so right--it's the spontaneity, the joy--that helps a work of art unfold. Just as the winter sunlight worked its magic on your beautiful BLANK sheet of cyan, so the creative urge will work its magic in the place one lovingly tends.

Louise said...

What a pep talk!

And the picture with the lighting? Wonderful.