workstationHave you ever stared at a blank page and wondered how on earth you will ever fill it with words? Yes, it has happened to us all. Maybe it was a long time ago in the exam hall, or perhaps more recently in front of the computer as the icy cold keyboard repels your fingertips.

And yet blank pages usually end up stuffed with words. Often it is drivel, but the empty screen is patterned soon enough. Somehow we find something to say.

It is amazing how this happens. We dip into the recesses of our synapses and an idea pops into being followed by words in some logical sequence to describe the thought. Blank is transformed because our brains conjure up meaning from somewhere.

Neuroscientists claim, as they populate their own blank pages, that this learned process is all about higher brain functions communicating with the more ancient limbic system in ways unique to humans. Something about our frontal cortex physically enveloping the base of the brain.

As maybe, only this inevitable mechanistic explanation sounds like an apology. Why not admit that we have no idea just how staring at a blank page can yield nothing, or a page of drivel, or on those very rare occasions a masterpiece.

There was a blank page before Shakespeare came up with “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” Enough said.

After many decades trying to fill pages and screens with drivel from technical reports to blog posts, I believe that the inspiration that finds the idea and sets the words in motion is with us all the time. A portal if you like that can connect us to all the ideas in the universe. Only we constantly forget where it is and how to open it.

If we are tenacious or stubborn we find tricks to get around this amnesia. Reading related material, preferably of poor quality, often opens the portal for me, as does a tedious conference presentation. Something ego related happens when exposed to someone else’s drivel. It fires up my competitive instinct.

“You see,” says the neuroscientist. “It’s all about the limbic system.”


Another trick I use is to find a place to write. A spot where there is nothing else to do or has been done other than fill the blank page. The first draft of ‘Fences’ an as yet unpublished novel was written long hand on the train. By the way if anyone wants to read a ripping yarn about Jacob Morafe’s adventures as an African game ranger, let me know. Someone has to be the first to read a future bestseller. It could be you.

But I digress. Any actions taken to help fill the page are just triggers to achieve the portal and you will have yours. It is the mystery of the muse.

And there you go. Before you know it another 500-word post has appeared on a blank page. Drivel or not, it is as much a necessity for those afflicted with the writing curse as the limbic system was for our early survival.


Idea for healthy thinking

Here’s a thing.

Is this portal, the mythical link to the inspirational power of the universe, just the moment when we connect with each other?

Drivel or masterpiece is only known by how much it connects with other people. Somehow the masterpieces resonate.

I like this idea. Wouldn’t it be amazing if this were to permeate all the fluff that fill screens and clogs printers every day. So instead of just covering up the white space of the page, we waited for the good stuff.

“Nice thought Mark, but tell that to the limbic system.”

Happy thinking.

Book title pain

MissingSomethoing3DcoverSChoosing the title of a book is huge challenge and about as troublesome as writing the thing in the first place. It should never be left to the author, as that is just cruel. Instead a dispassionate personality preferably with a commercial bent but minimal investment in the project is required. Otherwise you just generate material for standup comics who get laugh at angst.

I wallow in said angst.

So far my book titles have been as changeable as Australian prime ministers. Usually a working title sticks only to be rejected in the final hour to be replaced by option after option created, edited and also rejected.

It is a classic symptom of self-publishing pain.

Whilst playing the title game with Missing Something that, as regular readers will know, is now available from Amazon as hardcopy and Kindle ebook at terrific prices, I came up with Empathy for a warm, crowded world.

It went the way of numerous other attempts but I regret that it did. Given the book is a non-fiction account of what it means for a planet to have so many people growing ever more affluent it actually makes good sense.

Rather than rail at the environmental degradation we cause or ignore all of that because resource use is our right, maybe we just need some empathy for ourselves

We could give ourselves a hug and say:

“Well, there a lot of us now. We didn’t ask for it and we can’t change that fact or that we will need to use a whole bunch of resources. And so we mustn’t beat ourselves up about it. It is what it is. Let’s take a deep breath, accept that we have a big challenge ahead, and work together.”

Pity this is too long for a title.