The Louisiana Channel — which, despite its name, is a product of Denmark, not New Orleans — gives us some insight into how eight well-known writers face the dreaded blank page. David Mitchell joins Jonathan Franzen, Lydia Davis and Margaret Atwood in explaining how he confronts the blank page, and he sounds a lot like our friend Steven Pressfield in emphasizing that writing is work, not some mystical exercise in which masterpieces are dictated by the muses:

“It’s like a slightly overweight, bald boss saying ‘Oy, it’s time to work! Get to work! Come on, you’re supposed to be a writer, aren’t you?’ You can’t just sit around on your fat arse waiting to be inspired, waiting for creativity. No, it’s time to get to work. You’re stuck? Fine. Why are you stuck? Why isn’t this working? Why can’t you push on with this scene? What are you trying to hold onto that isn’t working here? Be more honest! Still stuck? Okay, imagine you’re the character in the scene. What do you think about? What’s going on? What do you want? Write that down.”

To Mitchell, a blank page is like an aperture from one of his books, leading to an orison of possibility:

“A blank page is also a door. It contains infinity. It’s like a night sky with a supermoon really close to the Earth, and all the stars and the galaxies…It just makes your heart beat faster.”

Here’s Atwood:

“For a writer, there’s something compelling about the blank page. It beckons you in to write something on it. It must be filled.”

And Davis:

“I never face a blank page, and I actually give that advice to young writers not to sit down in front of a blank page. And the way I do it is I go to the page when I already have a thought or a sentence or a note that I want to make, so it’s very quickly not blank.”

Regarding Mitchell’s previous point about imagining a boss standing over you, demanding you get on with your work, it’s a point that Pressfield hammers home again and again in his book, The War of Art. It’s heavily focused on demystifying the writing process, of dispelling the romantic notion that writing is some sort of glamorous ritual whereby muses alight on the writer’s shoulders and deliver a perfect work of art in a flash of overwhelming inspiration. Falling into the trap of thinking that way makes it easier for would-be writers to procrastinate — instead of the certainty that nothing is going to appear on that blank page unless they put it there, they’re waiting for some supernatural boost that doesn’t exist. In other words, writing is work:

“The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come. The professional is sly. He knows that by toiling beside the front door of technique, he leaves room for genius to enter by the back.”