Your Book: Get Started by Learning to Break Some Rules

Let’s forget for a moment the inevitable blank page. It’s the blank page that scares you, isn’t it, when you think about finally sitting down to tell something?

Well let me scare you a little bit more.

What it really takes to get started filling blank page after blank page is wasting paper, using up pens, being selfish, amounting to nothing and wasting lots and lots of time. These are the sins you have to get used to committing every single day.

I use these words deliberately, because they are the right words, and because you have to become desensitized to the very things that have kept you in check, kept you from making mistakes, kept you from costing anybody anything, from wasting, from looking bad and from failing.

Creativity is wasteful. And being willfully wasteful means being willing to make mistakes and to throw things out if they’re not right. Being true to a vision means starting over again and again. It means approximating. Failing. Giving up. Trying again.

To ruin the page’s perfect blankness, you have to be willing to fail utterly, miserably and totally. Failure has to lose its sting and hold over you. Perfection has to lose its appeal. The blank page is perfect. Perfect doesn’t get you anywhere.

What gets you somewhere is courage. Perversity. Stubbornness. Frustration. Desperation.

Creativity means living in the reality that there’s a never-ending supply of words, concepts, colors, modes of expression, truths, stories, moments, time (and pens) with which to make your statement. It is an act of faith.

What really stops you is that you don’t believe and trust that a never-ending supply will be routed to you, that the invisible pipe-layers of creativity will notice and make sure the plethora opens to you.

Filling the blank page means doing it anyway, even if they forget you, even if no one listens, even if the plethora dried up and nobody told you. It is finding it within yourself to be more than you think you are, to be the supply if you have to.

Uncle Bob used to tell the story of his father sitting on the back step opening watermelons one by one and tossing them aside it they weren’t just right. You know what happened to that pile of watermelons Uncle Bob’s father threw aside? They rotted and became dirt. Which grew more watermelons, or tomatoes, or squash, or peppers. Or daisies, or grass. Which fed people and bees and birds and creatures, which by now have all died and become dirt and have fed others and on and on and on.

This is life. To create recklessly means to be part of the great, messy, sometimes rotting cycle of life. Underneath the pavement, where the dirt is. Underneath what’s underneath.

Messy, reckless, heedless, wasteful, sloppy, selfish and useless. Whether they’re aware of it or not, this is the portal each creative person passes through on the way to producing the finished product you consume. You consume it whole, and it goes down easily. It’s perfect. You assume it was born that way.

But know that it wasn’t.

Quickly, or effortlessly, consciously or un-, or bit by bit, every person who’s ever created something has had to say it’s okay to break the inner rules of decorum in order to get something down, in order to begin.

Are you willing to be messy, reckless, heedless, wasteful, sloppy, selfish and useless? Are you willing to waste time and risk failing? Are you willing to do something courageous and difficult, lacking faith, evidence, experience? What matters is the impetus to create, to tell something. It doesn’t matter one iota whether you succeed on the first try or the millionth, or never succeed at all.

But today’s lesson is that you will never get to either one if you don’t allow yourself to begin.

Exercise: Get out a blank piece of paper and several pens. Unlined paper is best, but lined will do. If it’s lined, turn it 90 degrees so the lines go up and down. Now sully the paper. It doesn’t matter how. Words, lines, doodles, shapes, scratches, blobs. Mess up the whole thing. Make it awful. Make it utter trash. When you’re done ruining it, ball it up and throw it away.

Caution: You might fall in love with what you’ve produced. It’s entirely up to you what to do with it in that case. I have no advice for that. You’ve entered the most sacred and private, personal and quirky place of all. If this happens, take time to be with the experience. Because what you keep from that is no longer on the page. It’s inside you. Forever.

The two reasons I advocate writing every day are so it becomes easy to waste the paper, time, ink and effort, and to strengthen that holy bond between creative impulse and creative effort.

And creating that bond means learning to break some rules.

Photo credits: All except the pens are from, and if you click on the photo, the name of the photographer will be in your browser bar. Photo of pen graveyard: Phyllis Capanna.

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Originally published at on December 7, 2016.