A New Year, A Blank Page

December 30, 2014

Reading the novelist John Irving’s memoir The Imaginary Girlfriend, I recently came upon this passage, which seems to me to speak volumes about the business of facing the infinite possibilities of a new year or, for that matter, each new day:

The wonderful and terrifying thing about the first page of paper that awaits the first sentence of your next book is that this clean piece of paper is completely unimpressed by your reputation, or lack thereof; that blank page has not read your previous work — it is neither comparing you to its favorite among your earlier novels nor is it sneering in memory of your past failures. That is the absolutely exhilarating and totally frightening thing about beginning — I mean each and every new beginning. That is when even the most experienced teacher becomes a student again and again.

There is so much I love about that paragraph, but I think the thing I love most is this: “that blank page has not read your previous work.”

The same can be well said about the year ahead of us: it has not read our previous work. It is not yet impressed with us, but also bears us no grudges nor condemnation. It is pure possibility, trembling with the electricity of potential.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

I’ve written many times in this blog about the courage it takes to live a life, and how similar it is to the courage it takes to write a book.

For example, in “Jousting the Dragon,” “What Does It All Add Up To?,” “That Excruciating Joy,” “Diving Off a Cliff,” and “The Secret of Empty Spaces.”

To help ring in the new year I thought I’d share a few others of my favorite writers’ quotations about the process of starting with a blank page, since that’s what we’re all going to be doing in another thirty hours or so:

Writing is easy. All you have to do is stare at a blank piece of paper until beads of blood start to form on your forehead. (Jeff MacNeilly)

A blank sheet of paper. (Ernest Hemingway, when asked what was the most frightening thing he ever encountered)

You can’t wait for inspiration, you have to go after it with a club. (Jack London)

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to be written. (Vladimir Nabakov)

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. (W. Somerset Maugham)

I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper. (Steve Martin)

What is it you most dream of? What is it you most want to do this year, know this year, find this year, build this year, experience this year?

Whatever story you want to create, your canvas is waiting, ready as a field of hushed newfallen snow.

Are you willing to dive in?

Here’s to creating your most fascinating, entertaining, mystifying, amusing, captivating, fulfilling, enriching, deeply satisfying and, yes, happy New Year ever!


  1. Adrian

    Thanks John for this posting and for all those of the (almost) past year. Great quotes — I love Steve Martin’s the best. And very timely since I’m staring at a blank computer screen and have to come up with brand-new music within the next 24 hours. Oh, well — I can worry about that next year!

    Much love–

    • John David Mann

      Grazie, Adrian — I can’t tell you what an honor and privilege it is to know that my big brother is reading my little blog! (Oh wait, yes I can! I just did.) Here’s to a most excellent New Year!


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