The sheet of possibility

Published in Features on 9 May 2014

I sat down today to write about goats, but that will have to wait for another time. Instead I got diverted into the power, and pull, of a blank page. As I sat musing about where to start, or how to frame my piece, I found myself procrastinating. If only procrastination were an Olympic sport, or a skill available for endorsement on LinkedIn, I feel my value in the world would be considerably richer than it currently is, but I digress.

A blank screen, much like a blank sheet of high quality writing paper, holds an appeal and a possibility like few other things in life. The sheer emptiness, an inviting canvas on which anything could be painted. At that moment, as I hold my breath and lay my fingers on the keyboard… poised to impart the contents of my mind, I become painfully aware of the pregnant pause as brain and fingers fail to connect.

It is as though I am hit by stage fright. Stood in the wings, with the spotlight on the middle of the stage, for that moment I am afraid to go on. My fingers freeze as my brain wanders yet again to my first line and how to start. In that millisecond, the self-doubt seed has glimpsed the rays of the spotlight, and germination occurs in an instant. What had been so certain before is now doubted. Once I get my fingers moving, I delete the first sentence. Several times.

This possibility of the blank sheet is almost overwhelming. Who knows, this could contain greatness, it might be the moment when my life changes. I could be about to write something remarkably profound, to connect or inspire someone, prompt a thought that falls like dominoes until the final realisation lands slap on the deck. Alternatively, I could walk out onto that stage and forget my lines, stutter, have a complete mind blank and stand dazzled in the lights. Or worse still I could start only to get heckled or booed off, or finish and be met with a deafening silence.

Too often in that moment I bottle it. I indulge with more procrastination, I go and put a coffee on, or change fonts and margin sizes. I scribble down a few more notes, when really all I need to do is start. There is no chance of greatness or connection if you are paralysed by overwhelming possibility. Writing, as so many other things in life, requires you to start and take the risk. What’s the worst that could happen, your audience might not like goats, or blank pages, but at least you will have stepped into the light and given it a go.