Nora Roberts? Eileen Wilks? Lori Avocato? Susan Elizabeth Phillips? Bonnie Hearn Hill? Anonymous?
(1) I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank one.
(2) You can’t fix a blank page.
Who crafted this advice? Would you please help me to find a citation?
Quote Investigator: In July 1997 “USA Today” published a piece about bestselling romance and suspense author Nora Roberts. She commented on her writing process. Boldface added to excerpts by QI:[ref] 1997 July 31, USA Today, For Janet Dailey, a romance gone sour Book deal on hold in wake of scandal by Nanci Hellmich, Quote Page D 1:5, McLean, Virginia. (ProQuest) [/ref]
She says she would never crib an idea from another book — let alone take dialogue or entire scenes — even if her prose wasn’t coming easily. “I believe writing is a discipline. I write every day. Even if I’m not writing well, I write through it. I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank one.”
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In August 1997 the remark by Roberts caught the eye of a journalist at the “Chicago Tribune” of Illinois. The remark was reprinted in a section called “Quotables”:[ref] 1997 August 15, Chicago Tribune, Quotables, Quote Page 27, Chicago, Illinois. (ProQuest) [/ref]
“I believe writing is a discipline. I write every day. Even if I’m not writing well, I write through it. I can fix a bad page. I can’t fix a blank one.”
–Romance novelist Nora Roberts, whose books were found to have been plagiarized by fellow romance novelist Janet Dailey, who has apologized to Roberts, on how she copes with dry spells.
In 1998 journalist Sue Ann Wood spoke to Nora Roberts, and asked about writer’s block. Roberts reply included the second quotation listed at the beginning of this article:[ref] 1998 April 19, The Stuart News, She writes romance, they talk plagiarism by Sue Ann Wood (St. Louis Post-Dispatch), Quote Page E8, Column 3, Stuart, Florida. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]
When she’s at home in Keedysville, Md., she keeps to a regular routine of writing from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Asked if she ever suffers from writer’s block, she replied, “I don’t believe in it.”
“Writing is a habit, like exercise,” she said. “You have to write something, even if it’s bad at first. You can always fix it, but you can’t fix a blank page.”
Getting such a writing habit takes self-discipline, Roberts said, something she learned in Catholic school as a child.
In 2003 “Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment” by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lot contained an instance of the saying attributed to Roberts:[ref] 2003, Seven Steps on the Writer’s Path: The Journey from Frustration to Fulfillment by Nancy Pickard and Lynn Lot, Chapter: Wavering — Step Four on the Writer’s Path, Quote Page 122, Ballantine Books, New York. (Verified with scans) [/ref]
Nora Roberts has a great suggestion for any writer suffering from a bad case of perfectionism: be willing to write badly. “I can fix a bad page,” she points out, “but I can’t fix a blank one.” To which romance writer Susan Elizabeth Phillips adds, “I found the courage to fill my screen with bad pages on those days when my mind was mush, then trusted myself to fix them later.”
“The Writer’s Handbook 2004” contained an essay by author Susan Elizabeth Phillips which included the following two items of advice:[ref] 2003, The Writer’s Handbook 2004, Edited by Elfrieda Abbe, Chapter: What I Know for Sure (I Think) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Quote Page 169, The Writer Books: An Imprint of Kalmbach Publishing Company, Waukesha, Wisconsin. (Verified with scans) [/ref]
I love whoever wrote this motivational quote: “I can fix a bad page, but I can’t fix a blank one.”
Being forced to write a synopsis before you’ve written the book is necessary for some of us and is eating away the artistic souls of others. Figure out which one you are.
In 2006 the Visual Thesaurus website conducted an interview with novelist Eileen Wilks who referred to Roberts’s comment:[ref] Website: Vocabulary.com Blog, Article title: You Can’t Fix a Blank Page, Article description: Interview of Eileen Wilks conducted by VT (Visual Thesaurus), Date on website: May 1, 2006, Website description: Enhancing vocabulary for students, readers, writers, and thinkers. (Accessed vocabulary.com on July 21, 2022) link [/ref]
VT: How do you improve your writing?
Eileen: The writer Nora Roberts likes to say that she can fix anything but a blank page. That’s my motto. It’s real hard to fix something when you’ve got nothing done. You have to start with the first draft.
In 2008 Andrew McAleer published “The 101 Habits Of Highly Successful Novelists: Insider Secrets From Top Writers”, and he included the following two remarks from popular writers:[ref] 2008, The 101 Habits Of Highly Successful Novelists: Insider Secrets From Top Writers by Andrew McAleer, Part III: Discipline, Chapter 7: The Challenges, Quote Page 116, Adams Media, Avon, Massachusetts. (Verified with scans) [/ref]
> LORI AVOCATO You can fix, polish, and sell anything except a blank page. Ergo, sit down and write.
> LIZ CARLYLE Never look at a blank page for more than two minutes. Write something. Anything. Even garbage will get your neurons firing. Eventually it’s apt to morph into something useful. If not, you can take pride in having resisted the urge to dawdle.
In 2011 “The Fresno Bee” of California printed comments from author and teacher Bonnie Hearn Hill:[ref] 2011 October 6, The Fresno Bee, Successful writer is mentor to others by Bill McEwen, Quote Page A3, Column 1, Fresno, California. (Newspapers_com) [/ref]
“A surgeon friend of mine says, ‘I can fix anything but dead,’” she tells authors. “Well, I can fix anything except a blank page. So can you.”
In 2018 Jessica Brody published the advice book “Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need” which included the following passage:[ref] 2018, Save the Cat! Writes a Novel: The Last Book on Novel Writing You’ll Ever Need by Jessica Brody, Chapter 15: Save the Author!, Quote Page 293, Ten Speed Press, New York. (Google Books Preview) [/ref]
Nora Roberts says, “You can’t fix a blank page.” And how true is that? Write something bad so Future You has something to fix! Otherwise Future You will be very bored and disappointed that Past You didn’t live up to your end of the bargain and put something down on that page.
In conclusion, Nora Roberts did employ both of the quotations at the beginning of this article. Her cogent comments have appeared in numerous tutorial books for budding authors.
Image Notes: Public domain illustration of a hand writing from the 1912 work “The Book of Knowledge”.