The Unspeakable Terror of the Naked Page

The Unspeakable Terror of the Naked PageThe unspeakable terror of the naked page is real: blank pages appear denuded when I’m emotionally dressed.

I do not dream about being naked in public, perhaps because that would be a relief—stripped of all artifice I could be easily searched and what I found recorded.

There is writing inward and writing out. Every article penned treads a balance between the two. I cannot write for you without writing for me, but I cannot risk alienating you with my minutiae of self.

To write is to tease. It is to show enough of oneself—to render oneself semi-transparent enough—to seduce the reader. An intimate display of garish details is not required though it is often appreciated in its relatability.

We read to take—we write to give; writing solely to take is a dangerous pursuit. It is needy and tricksy; a sleight of hand that few want to tip.

I write my wounds unedited sometimes. I am not alone. A wise professor once stated that a raw howl might bring the masses to bear in reassurance that the writer good enough, smart enough, and relatable enough that past crimes and endurances feel justified—perhaps even necessary.

But such a mass may also turn on you, disgusted. What was benign can grow malignant. Or they may grow hungry for more; they may grow hungry for everything.

The hair still stands up on my arms. I do not know where the line between ‘enough’ and ‘everything else’ lies.

Not that such feats of raw soul-bearing come easily to me. Some days words are scarce and the net result of an attempted undressing meagre (though never none). Other days this undressing is swift and certain, as each thought vies to have its say first, last, and eternally, hounding me until my fingers cry for mercy from the heft of their weight.

Other days words are present—rich and abundant—but lacking in pizzazz or efficiency.

Today is one of those days. I parked my ass at my desk but all I experienced was uncertainty. What if I have nothing worthwhile to articulate? What if I write too much or share too little? What if I am not raw or seductive enough to bring the masses to bear?

What if I go to the river and the river is no longer there?

Yes, I was worrying about a possibly missing river before I had even laced my shoes. Or managed any kind of undressing at all. Not one to flee I decided to fight it out. Most writers know about getting bloody. We look placid enough, but it’s just a look.

Scratch the surface and you’ll find it scratches back.

(Side note: the people who find this sort of madness charming are likely to be more dangerous than we are. Ergo, it’s not writer’s you have to worry about—it’s the writer’s friends. Isn’t that reassuring?)

It is.

Equally reassuring is that blank pages are never truly blank. They are filled with invitations, possibilities, and pitfalls–as well as the peculiar certainty that I will bastardise even the most promising idea in my attempt to distill it into written form. Letters line up in impeccable formation or not; the unspoken, the unspeakable, the magical, the magnificent are concealed or revealed. Epiphanies are had and ideas and sentiments rendered solid and accessible.

Entire worlds live and die in each person encountered on the metro and brushed past on city streets. We are full of stories good and bad; of things that have happened and things yet to come.

Tell me.

I’m going to tattoo those words over my heart one day. But only if I can get my shirt off first.

Discipline has become my antidote to uncertainty. It stands up to inherent promises left unfulfilled by the whimsy of inspiration. There is hunger in its touch; it is alive, its beating heart necessarily pulsing through the veins of our work.

If inspiration is the coveted yet mindless cheerleader then discipline is the stern mistress binding us to commitments made when words flowed fast and sweet. It is what holds true when inspiration is busy at someone else’s bake-sale or distracted by Jimmy the linebacker on a Friday night.

Words dress and undress us, they hold the power to harm or heal. We take, and we filter our taking through personal experience before unleashing them back on the world. If we’re lucky that is; if we can undress ourselves long enough to get it done.

Perhaps all writing is one large game of telephone writ large. In and out. Taking and giving. Interesting to think that Stephen King may have his roots in Dante’s Inferno.

And but for the overcoming of terror of the naked page and our naked selves we would have neither.

15 thoughts on “The Unspeakable Terror of the Naked Page

  1. Illian! This post is amazing. It’s been my ambition since I read it to sit down at a blank word document and power out something so dialled in. I tried the other night and what came out was steeped in self-pity, it wasn’t as cool headed. You rock. You’re my current hero!

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    1. Ahhhh thank you so much! You’re probably being a bit hard on yourself. I must say–you would probably laugh to see my first drafts. Maybe you should revisit it in a few days and see if there isn’t some truth there you would like to explore! I’m interested to see what you came up with. 🙂


    2. Yes, will do actually. Just realised I would never talk to a guy in that way. Like, gushing praise. Wonder why that is. Hope I’m not being patronising. Illian Rain? Let it pour!!!!


      1. I do not at all feel like your patronizing me–I feel like we’re talking about writing. I often feel the way you felt when I read other people’s work. I’m also often inspired and find myself falling short. I’m a total fan-girl, so gushing is permitted–I gush often and have decided to feel no shame about it. We have more important things to do–like write!

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  2. Illian’s pearls – at least one in every text. Today, this made me utter an onomatopea out loud -(Oah!)- : “Scratch the surface and you’ll find it scratches back.” So much truth about writers and the craft is wonderfully painful. So glad to get to read you again. 🙂


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