You Can’t Edit A Blank Page

Youngling Research
2 min readMay 29, 2019

Jodi Picoult said:

“You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.”

When I started working on pure mathematics in my spare time, one of the things I learned about myself was that I was afraid to play

Subconsciously, I thought not clearly knowing what to do and therefore just trying random things (or even things you know are wrong) was a sign of stupidity.

I was “editing before I was writing”.

One day, I was completely stuck on a proof and somehow had the courage to try something that was obviously useless.

However, that obviously useless approach led me to a few key insights that made me see how to complete that proof. (It was an algebraic manipulation of an equation and when it simplified, I noticed certain things fell in place.)

If wasn’t until much later that I learned this is how all mathematicians work.

This idea that you know what to do from A to Z and then simply jot it down is a facade.

Just because you see a neat proof does not mean the process through which it was discovered was equally neat.

(I suspect traditional education is the culprit because if have to play, you haven’t been paying attention. They give you fixed problems and specific algorithms you apply to solve those problems.)

So don’t be afraid to try things. Even if you know they’re wrong.

Maybe what you think is wrong is right, or maybe your wrong leads you to insights that will lead you to right.

You can edit a bag page. You can’t edit a blank page.

Originally published at https://www.younglingfeynman.com on May 29, 2019.

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