Writing: Just Getting Started, by L

Getting started is often the hardest part of the writing process. We can feel hindered by many things, from the obvious (lack of ideas, not enough time) to the more subtle (lack of confidence, too many ideas). Thankfully, there are things we can do to diminish, if not completely banish, all of them.

As with any mental state, it’s a good idea to first take a step back, and identify what you feel the issue to be. Ask yourself questions, and don’t afraid to be honest.

  • Do you feel like you don’t have enough time to write?
  • Do you suffer from a lack of ideas or, conversely, too many?
  • Are you plagued by distractions?
  • Are you procrastinating?
  • Is your motivation lacking, and is this for the project, or your faith in your abilities?
  • Do you worry that whatever you write won’t be liked, or that it’s nothing new?
  • Do you simply feel like you don’t know how to say what you want to say?

These common situations can be traced to either a personal root or an external root. The important thing is to take a positive, proactive approach to both: always keep your eyes on the prize and remember that you are trying to get better at writing. Let’s tackle them.

 

Not enough time / too many distractions

Charles Bruxton once said, “You will never ‘find’ time for anything; if you want time, you must make it.” – and it is accurate. This approach is, again, about being positive and proactive, and while it may seem impossible, there are little things that can be done to make time.

You need not have a whole week or even a whole day of uninterrupted time in order to write. Creativity can take place quite successfully in much smaller bites, and this includes everything from writing a novel a sentence at a time, to taking a second to jot down an interesting name or potential title. By filling in small gaps of your life between daily activities with writing, you are helping it become part of you – not to mention that filing stuff away for later gives you a wealth to draw on when you’re feeling a lack of inspiration.

Crucially, though, this helps you get into the habit of writing and flexing that mental muscle. What this means is that it will become easier to ignore the distractions and make the time, and slip into your creative mindset.

So how do you actually make those slots of time? First of all, be prepared. Do you have scrap paper around the house? A notebook in your bag or car? Note-jotting apps on your Smartphone? Napkins and a pen at lunch? A voice recorder in your pocket? When the neurons start firing across those synapses, just like dreams, your memory may not be as all-powerful as you think, so be prepared to scribble something down. Own this characteristic, this ability, this tendency. Don’t be afraid to have a purse full of post-its or your pockets stuffed with scraps of envelope.

You can find these sneaky bits of time everywhere. If you commute, you’ve got at least ten minutes of waiting until the next stop. Waiting for lunch to heat up in the microwave? Use that two minutes to practice an opening line for your next story. Write out a brief character profile on the back of a receipt at the doctor’s office, or involve the kids next time they say they’re bored. Challenge yourself to get a paragraph done during the commercial break, or a page before bed. Even just taking the time to think about your work will help.

If you find using these little windows for writing difficult, you may have to take another approach. How effectively are you using the time you currently have? If you did all the chores on Saturday, could you then devote more time to writing on Sunday? If your spouse puts the kids to bed a couple of evenings out of the week, could you sneak away for that half an hour to type something? Instead of another hour of TV, why not an hour of writing?

The trend here is to regard your writing time as a valid pursuit. It matters to you, it’s something you like doing, and it is well within your right and power to take it seriously. You don’t have to be aiming for publication in order to consider it worthwhile.

The same ethos applies to distractions. Have you tried finding a space away from the distractions, or explaining to the distractions about your need for space and quiet? There is also the good ol’ strategy of trying to get other things done and out of the way so you won’t be distracted. If you find you can’t work because you can’t stand a cluttered room, get it sorted beforehand. Keep reminding yourself that you haven’t gone grocery shopping yet? Have it done on the way home from work. Opening that Internet browser every ten minutes? Write long-hand or on a computer that doesn’t have Internet, or uninstall it or block certain sites. Cook over the weekend in large batches so you have at least a couple of evenings where you don’t have to worry about meals and cleanup. Turn off your phone. Do whatever you need to do.

 

Procrastination

We all do it occasionally, some of us more than others. Procrastination can occur because of distractions – or at least that’s what we tell ourselves – but dealing with it is a slightly different matter. How do we overcome that lack of willpower, even toward something we’re interested in?

There’s no easy way. Unfortunately, it is simply a matter of ‘Write anyway’. Write anything. It may be absolute toddle when you’re done, but there may be a gem in there. ‘I just don’t feel like it’ can only fly so much. At some point, you’re just going to have to sit down and get this done. Only you can write what you need to write, and it’s not going to write itself. You have a duty to tell this.

Having a bull-headed determination about your work as some kind of mission sometimes helps. You also might want to turn the tables and ask yourself ‘why not?’. Procrastination is you stopping you. Why are you stopping yourself?

 

Lack of ideas

Otherwise known as the infamous ‘writer’s block’, a lack of ideas is perhaps the most common hindrance to getting started on any writing at all. Some have debated whether writer’s block actually exists. My personal opinion is that for our purposes here, if it’s real to you, it exists and needs to be tackled.

Are you having a lack of ideas because you feel like nothing you come up with will be original or ‘good enough’?

Write anyway. Write anything.

Alternatively, you may be suffering from a lack of creative stimulus. When was the last time you went out? Watched a movie? Read something new? Practiced another creative outlet like photography or painting or sculpture? Been to a gallery or a concert? It’s hard to draw on experiences if you’re not participating in any. You don’t have to write about the concert or draw from the movie plot; something as subconscious as the emotions you experienced can help warm the coals of your mind.

Or, if you’re not sure how to simply start a scene, try the basics: describe the setting. Describe the character. You don’t have to launch into narrative right away. Script out some dialogue. Interview a character. Don’t impose rules on yourself, or goals. Random phrase in your head? Start a poem with it, or a short paragraph. Use this ‘free-writing’ as a warm-up – all but 5% of it may be drivel, but at least you’ll have an idea of what’s not working and maybe you’ll come away with a snippet you can build from.

Write anyway. Write anything.

 

Too many ideas

It can make you feel like a kid at the circus; so many rides, so little time. You don’t know which idea to pick. Regardless of why you feel unable to pick, there are some things you can consider. (That being said, don’t discard the other ideas you don’t end up using – save them for later!)

Write each idea down on a slip of paper, crumple, put them in a bowl, mix. Either draw just one, and write as much as you can around that idea; or draw two or three, and challenge yourself to make a connection between the two.

If you’re not a fan of letting chance decide, a good rule of thumb is to go with the one that excites you most. You’re not going to write as much if you’re just not feeling it. Which one do you remember if you leave them alone for a week? If it’s nagging you, maybe it wants to be written. However, just because you choose one and you lose enthusiasm for it later, doesn’t mean you can’t go back to another. Sometimes it’s trial and error – and maybe one will inform/improve the other!

 

“I can’t write this”

Afraid it won’t be liked? Not original enough? Doubtful of your skills? Just don’t know how to come out and say it?

Write anyway. Write anything. Own what you want to do – what you are. Remember what made you want to do this in the first place.

Can’t?

Yes, you can.

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