Blank Page Phobia

Photo cred: Flickr user Matt Roberts

If there’s a trope in the writer world more cliche than “It was a dark and stormy night…” it’s the terror of the blank page.

We all face it—the emptiness like a white-out blizzard that might swallow us and numb us until the terror turns to frozen death—the fear we try not to acknowledge, hiding behind funny writer jokes and declarations of how much we adore creating worlds out of graphemes.

I face it when I sit down to the first daunting word of an assignment and when I open a document for a new story. I face it two paragraphs in, when the rest of the page stretches like the wilderness at the crumbled end of an abandoned sidewalk. I face it when I open a new blog post like this one and wonder yet again if I have anything to write that’s worth posting.

The world is full of shouting voices. The internet is a veritable sea of people waving their arms and shouting, “Over here! Hey! I’m right here!” and “Can you hear me? Can you hear me now?” And somewhere, in the midst of that, in a world where 6.7 million people blog on blogging sites alone and and somewhere between 600 thousand and a million books are published each year in just the US—somewhere, buried in the noise and the chaos, each of us hopes to be heard.

Photo cred: Flickr user steve

That blank-page-phobia isn’t really about coming up with the right words. It isn’t “What if I have nothing to say?”

It’s “What if nobody cares?”

Our greatest fear isn’t of being silent, but of being silenced.

We fear obscurity. We fear redundancy. We fear the “so what?” factor—that the words we feel to be so intimately a part of us will be met with apathy if we open them to the world.

We are portrayed time and again as a selfish culture—all of us, whether as a country or as a generation—but the truth is that we don’t shout for attention because we’re narcissists. We shout because we’re desperately lonely. In a world where all of us plead for attention, most of our voices mingle into unintelligible noise.

As writers, we’re told to churn out material constantly. The most oft-repeated advice I’ve heard is, “Write every day.” Write because practice makes perfect. Write because the more pieces you put out, the more likely one or two of them will float to the top of the pile and gain notice.

Write. Write. Write.

And I stare at the blank page and tell myself to write, and a small voice inside me whispers, “But what if nobody reads it?”

So today, I give you and me permission not to write.

To set the blank page aside and listen to one or two of the other voices screaming into the void. Today, let’s take the time to let some other lonely soul know that their voice is heard—that their words are not white noise—that the confessions of their heart are not redundant, not worthless.

And then, when we’ve done that, I give you and me permission to write.

To craft sentences and select words and make typos and finish—or not finish. To publish—or to not publish. I give us permission to write because we are writers and because the craft itself is a worthwhile endeavour. And I give us permission to love our writing even if nobody else reads it, to set our words aside if they do not contribute to the clamour of voices—or to lay our souls before the world, knowing that the act itself is meaningful, no matter the result.

Because none of us is silent. None of us is obscure. None of us is redundant. No matter how many voices drown us out, each of us matters.

Photo cred: Flickr user Amy Palko

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4 Not-So-True Things About Introverts

I remember in sixth grade wondering whether it was normal to be physically nauseous from anxiety over walking into school. I’m not talking the first day; I’m talking every single morning.

See, I’m an introvert and a verbal processor, and nobody looks at the seven-year-old who won’t shut up and says, “You know what? I bet that kid’s actually introverted.” People called me outgoing, talkative, hyper–or, when I got on their nerves, obnoxious. And I believed them for a long time. I remember deciding that a painful fear of meeting new people must just be one of those things adults pretend they don’t have anymore, because if someone as (supposedly) outgoing as I had shaky hands just saying hello to a stranger, everyone must. I steeled myself and made new friends everywhere, because that’s what talkative people do.

And then the word “introvert” entered my world, and for the first time, I felt free. I read every article, took every quiz, and revelled in my newfound understanding of myself. In a world that elevates extroversion, the internet said, introverts are the real thinkers, the real geniuses, the real dreamers, struggling to balance love of silence and survival in a loud world.

And, I told myself, I am one of these brilliant, socially awkward minds. But as nice as it feels to be part of a group, the internet isn’t right about everything. Here are some examples:

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  1. Introverts think deeper thoughts than you.
    I have enough ego to enjoy thinking that my personality type automatically makes me cleverer, deeper, more philosophical, and ultimately more right than everyone else. But it’s just not true. Maybe introversion includes a preference for philosophical thoughts, but that doesn’t mean we’re inherently more intelligent than everyone else. I have my share of shallow thoughts, and some of the deepest thinkers I know are extreme extraverts.
  2. Introverts don’t care about the details of your life–but we’re still really nice people.
    I see this on a lot of lists. “Introverts don’t care about your birthday.” “We’re ignoring you recounting your day.” And then, below those, on the same list, usually there’s something like “We’re not rude or aloof.” But my personality type is not an excuse to be rude. We get this idea that as introverts, we don’t need people, and therefore we don’t have to show common decency and respect. Here’s the truth: I might not care about everything you care about, but that doesn’t excuse me from caring about you. If I care about you as a person, I need to care about the things that are important to you. Not because I find your birthday or your weekend events fascinating, but because they matter to you, and you matter to me.
  3. Introverts are great listeners who never talk about themselves.
    Many introverts are highly empathetic and enjoy listening to other people, but introverts aren’t just animated listening machines who want to hear every person’s life story. I get bored of hearing other people talk as easily as other people get bored of hearing me talk. And I talk about myself plenty. Here’s what is true: I’m selective in what I say about myself. I’ll tell you stories about my life all day long (I was a nightmare toddler, so I have plenty of good stories) and I’ll tell you my plans; telling you gives me a chance to process my own thoughts. But I will not tell you about my feelings. That’s where the introvert line gets drawn. I will talk about myself, just not about the vulnerable parts of myself.
  4. Introverts may deign to befriend you, and if so, you must appreciate it.
    The only thing I can think of when I see this is that an introvert must have written the list. Because this is straight-up arrogant. This says “Introverts are better than you, and you should be deeply grateful for their condescension.” Guys, introverts are not better than anyone else. If anyone trusts you enough to build a relationship with you, appreciate that trust. Everyone has unique strengths and weaknesses, and every relationship involves two people being willing to make some sacrifices for the sake of each other. That doesn’t change just because one of those people is introverted.

I’ve felt guilty reading lists of qualities I don’t measure up to, and I’ve felt superior, looking at explanations of how much better my personality is than everyone else’s. But”introvert” is a label for a wide range of people who are–surprise!–unique individuals. If you’re not an introvert, don’t be intimidated, and don’t try to peg us by reading a list. Get to know us. And if you are an introvert, don’t read a list and try to become it or use it to prove your superiority.

Be yourself. No matter what your personality type, you don’t need to measure up to the internet.

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