For me, the hardest thing about writing is getting myself started. Usually, I have already done tons of planning and preparation beforehand and for the most part have a plot worked out enough to where I’m comfortable to begin. The biggest problem I face after that – how to get going.
Whether you are a beginner or even an old hand at writing, chances are you’ll probably require a push to get started. Most writers that I know will tell you that starting a writing project is often the most difficult part of writing. And even if you’ve done tons of research and have everything organized, it’s still only research until you find the will to commit to the writing.
Facing a blank page knowing that you have several hundreds more to follow is terrifying and if you let yourself think on it too long, it can psych you right out of getting started. If you’re the type of writer that just wants to see where the writing takes you, then you have my deepest admiration. Me, I can’t do that. Most us require a plot that has been constructed to at least a basic framework (a three-part story-structure) and I general idea about the story we want to tell. But even after that it can be tough to get underway.
So here are some of my own quick tips for those of you who may have your plot ready but still can’t seem to get going.
- Think about anything you are about to write as a rough draft, and nothing else. Give yourself permission to “waste” time and allow yourself a few false-starts. Quit thinking about perfection or even that anything you’re going to write is ever going to be read by anyone. Keep in mind – you’re not “finishing” a story – you’re “starting” one.
- Don’t ever sit around waiting until you’re in a “writing frame of mind”. There is no such thing. To paraphrase Yoda, you are either working or you’re not the is no in between. Set aside dedicated time every day and write. It doesn’t have to be large blocks of time and it doesn’t always have to be the same time. Just make sure that every day has “dedicated” time and then write.
- If sitting at your computer and staring at a blank screen is what throws you off, then grab the old-fashion pencil and paper and write. I myself have found that, for some reason, just the difference in the feel of holding a pencil versus typing on the keyboard can have a surprising effect on getting me writing. I’ve even found that writing first drafts with just a pencil tends to be more stimulating for my creativity than working at a computer. I revise and edit at the computer but I compose with a pencil and paper.
- Don’t even think about grammar, spelling, punctuation or anything resembling proper syntax or structure. They are the muse-killers so stick them in the drawer for now. You can worry about those things in revisions but you need to have something to revise first.
- Fight the strong urge to go back to revise anything at first. Make yourself notes if you’re afraid of forgetting something, but don’t waste VALUABLE time trying to get it right on the first try. Again, that’s called revision, not writing – and right now you are in the writing phase.
- I don’t know about you, but I just cannot write effectively if it’s too quiet. The silence can be deafening. I have to have some noise going on in the background or I just can’t think. For example, during the day I might have CNBC on the television behind me. I’m not really paying it much attention but it’s just enough to be non-bothersome yet not enough to subvert my interest away. Coffee shops, music, hell even just listening to the noises outside usually does the trick for me.
I want to talk now to any writers who do eventually manage to get started, but then end up getting stuck at certain points during the process. Perhaps the plot starts to fizzle out after that dynamic opening or you discover a major gap in the plot that extinguishes what you had originally planned. It’s at these times that writing can come down to a grinding halt. This seems to be an area that catches so many beginning or unconfident writers because there is the perception that great writers can just will great stories onto the page. Trust me, nothing is farther from the truth. Every writer gets stuck at certain times.
If you find that this is happening to you then here are a few tips to help fight this particular disorder.
- When stuck writing – start reading. I find that when I get myself really wedged, if I just step back and start reading something I enjoy, it tends to loosen up my mind and I can get writing again. I once had a writer friend who told me that writing can be like making bread; you have to knead it and knead it, but then it’s important to leave it alone and let it rest, so that’s how I try to think of it. Give your writing a little time to rise.
- Work on something else. I have a writing exercise I do almost every day as a
warm-up. I take something that interests me or has my attention, whether it was something from the news or just an idea that popped into my head, and I’ll write a short little story. The game is that can be no more than 300 words. I call them my Teedlewomp Tales, after a little writing mascot that my grandmother gave me when I was younger. Ninety percent of the time these scribbles never see the light of day. But that’s not the point. The point is to stretch out my writing muscles so that I don’t give myself a writing cramp later when I’m working.
- Don’t necessarily start throwing darts at a problem. Sometimes spinning your wheels only adds to your writing anxiety. Trust me, I know all about this one. Often, I will wait to return to a certain work until I have given myself amble time to kick around different solutions. I only return when I’m feeling prepared and focused.
- Go do something entirely different. In the spring and summer when I am having trouble writing – I go golfing. You’d be surprised at how getting all pissed off about my golf game tends to free up my writing mind. Playing golf requires so much concentration and because it’s something so completely different from writing, I find that helps ease the stress on my writing mind.
- Phone a friend. Fight the insecure urge to go at this alone and ask for help. Try reading what you have written to someone who will listen and who will be supportive of what you are trying to do. Inspiration can come from so many places and talking to people can do wonders for sparking your imagination. Every great writer, artist, or entrepreneur had a support system around them that propelled them onto success so use your support system to help you.
If, after all that, you are still struggling, well don’t despair. Understand that no writing is ever wasted writing. I have probably learned as much, and maybe more, from my failures as from my successes. It’s all part of the journey. F. Scott Fitzgerald took over three years to write The Great Gatsby, starting and stopping several times before he managed to reach the end. It happens that way sometimes. On the other hand, it only took Charles Dickens six weeks to write A Christmas Carol. So never let yourself get discouraged about how long something is taking. The one thing that both examples have in common is that these great writers had to get started in the first place.