Friday, March 12, 2010


I am 'facing the challenge', it is the concept of 'the challenge of the blank sheet of paper', except this is the blog post box. The challenge was posed to the correspondent and broadcaster Max Hastings in his youth by his father. Hearing of it made me think. Would I find it a challenge, if so, why and how would I handle it?

There is no doubt, facing a blank sheet of real paper with a pen or pencil would be a different proposition to sliding my fingers reasonably securely and fast over a keyboard, at a speed that keeps up with my thoughts. It has always been a challenge keeping my handwriting working in time to personal creative thought. It is very difficult for other people to read my handwriting, there again, it is not always straightforward for me either.

It is strange to re-read a piece of work, which, at the time it was written, (by hand) seemed absolutely fine, but a day later, was not in the least bit coherent. Thinking and handwriting in parallel is, for me, a challenge, one that I have to resolve by consciously slowing both down, by 'speedily' editing the phrases I write as I progress. 

I am disinclined to put on creative brakes, except in very prescribed circumstances. In the final analysis, I will continue to rise to the challenge of writing on a blank sheet, but one that is represented on a computer screen, where there is a keyboard available for me to draft out my thoughts at relatively high speed.


Anonymous said...

my handwriting is almost illegible to all living souls but i still like to use that method every now and then although, like you, i'm much faster with a keyboard.

the other advantage with typing your thoughts is that they can be edited and altered as you go along which saves an awful lot of crossing-out!

ZACL said...

I write occasionally. doing so keeps a certain uncertain skill alive; I can't say I like the look of the scrawl. Postcards minimise the 'pain'. I marvel at the novelists who used to handwrite their manuscripts.

Electronic editing is a marvellous tool.

Anonymous said...

those old manuscripts, painstakingly written by hand with a squeaking quill by candlelight,
covered in smudges and ink blots too...a real trial of patience and endurance to be truly marvelled at, i'd say!

ZACL said...

Didn't do much for eyesight either, all the quilling by candlelight.

Incredible feats when you think about writers of yore.

Vincent said...

I was interested to listen to some of Max Hastings' memoirs because I used to read the Eagle as a boy, in which Macdonald Hastings, his father, used to report weekly on his intrepid exploits.

But not having listened to all of it, I am not quite sure what you mean by the challenge of the blank sheet of paper. Does a cook seek inspiration by staring at an empty plate and trying to visualise what to put on it? Not usually, I would guess. The cook gets inspiration from ingredients, her own hunger, personal taste and the expressed wishes of those who will eat her dishes. And perhaps sometimes from browsing through recipes.

However, the columnist's (or cartoonist's) dilemma is a particular kind of torture, for which cooking is a poor analogy. A cook can always repeat a favourite dish, within the confines of a suitable rotation. The writer must come up with something new, original.

Fortunate are we as bloggers, that we are not contracted to churning out a piece at prescribed intervals! This is our strength---that our pieces don't need to be potboilers.

ZACL said...

Hello Vincent,

Your points are all so apt.

The question you posed about the meaning of the challenge of the blank sheet, is one to pose to the person who made it, (now deceased) or his son Max, who does appear to have risen to the challenge in his inimitable manner.

From what you wrote, I do believe you answered your own question. Indeed, the blank sheet is not the same as an empty plate, from the point of view of producing food on it, yet there are some parallels in the analogy, especially if you are regularly provisioning for a family, or even for a restaurant. However, it does not always need to be something 'new', or different, as you say.

Like you, I am glad there is not the pressure production requirements in blogging.

Thank you for your comments, they are interesting, and dare I say it, food, for further thought!