Being a writer is an ever-evolving process. It seems like every time I begin a new project or a new phase of my career, I find myself in the same conundrum: How am I going to get out of THIS one? Of course, this is what keeps the job satisfying and interesting. Yet, trying to figure out how to start writing, whether as a beginner or as a seasoned freelancer, never stops being a challenge. What’s a writer to do?
In this article, we will take a look at how to start writing at different phases of your work, whether you’re about to start a new project or dive head-first into your first assignment.
How to Start Writing
Whether it is a career or an assignment, I think of why before I think of how to start writing. It’s strange to have a career where the mind rebels and casts self-doubt before anything is created. The solution is to get in touch with your motivations. Are you looking for money, sex, public adulation, or just a personal challenge?
If you can be honest with yourself, you will learn just how far your writing will take you and just what it will achieve. Conversely, if you feel lost while writing, rekindling your motivating factors can jumpstart you from the malaise that plagues us all.
Blank Page Syndrome
Few things strike fear into a writer’s heart like a blank page. Staring into an ocean of nothingness can intimidate a writer like nothing else. While the idea and form may seem straightforward and easy, knowing how to start writing a cohesive document makes all of those notions evaporate. I call it “Blank Page Syndrome”.
So, how do you outwit this scourge?
One effective strategy is to write anything that comes to mind. This includes fears—“I’m not sure how to begin this article, so I’m just going to say…” You’ll notice once there’s something on the page, your anxieties will start to dissipate. Sometimes, you might just have ideas for headings or related topics; you might be limited to an opening paragraph or a vague idea. Whatever they are, write them down immediately. The effect is instant, and you no longer have a blank page to worry about. You might have an unorganized mess instead, but that mess is the primordial ooze from which you project can evolve.
Hemingway’s Sentence Trick
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” – an excerpt from Ernest Hemingway’s A Movable Feast
If you’re looking for how to start writing an in-progress document, it all comes down to where you left off. Ernest Hemingway was a masterful writer and he had a number of strategies to overcome his mental struggles. One such strategy was to avoid the feeling of completion, even if it meant stopping mid-sentence or mid-thought. The idea is that you want to leave your future-self enough to go on and not have to overcome the inertia of a newness each time you sit down to write (see “Blank Page Syndrome” above).
If you’re astounded this technique, do yourself a favor and read A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s memoir of his expatriate days. It provides unique insight into the methodology that served him well not only as a journalist, but also as an acclaimed fiction writer.
The Number One Distraction
Wanna know how to start writing? Turn off your internet connection. No, really. DO IT NOW.
Well, maybe after you finish reading this article.
Going down a wormhole of distraction that may feel like work (“I’m researching!”) can quickly devolve into distractions, especially for useful websites like Reddit. In this age of distraction, many people applaud their “ability” to not own a television. But the instantaneous access to every topic imaginable can be worse. How does a writer, who may need an internet connection on a daily basis, fight this temptation?
The solution is what I call “research reconnaissance”. If I have to cite an article, I make it a phase of my writing process to grab all of the information I need, copy-and-paste it into a related folder and work from there. Once I have enough information, I turn off my internet connection and get to work. If I find that I need more information, I make a quick note for later and continue writing.
Understanding the temptation of endless entertainment is the key to not being handicapped. Trust me, one goofy cat picture can waste an hour of hard work. And there is no shortage of those on the internet.
The best thing I’ve discovered when it comes to how to start writing is to simply not stop writing. If you’ve got the momentum going, your mind may try to bargain with you: “After this paragraph, let’s take a break.” Resist these urges and keep going for as long as you can stand it.
Let me clarify: my mind is always working and I’ve written entire pieces while standing at the line of a Walmart. But I know that when I’m “writing”, my mind is engaged on the task at hand. The flow may not be completely broken; instead, because the writing has been going on in my head, I usually rush to a keyboard and type until I’ve emptied the idea.
If you’re looking for more information on this topic, start with the Wikipedia page.
Understanding the psychology of writing is almost as important as to what you are writing.
Creative Writing Prompts
Originality is overrated. Writers often wonder how to start writing their magnum opus when it seems like every good idea is taken already. The truth is that the original idea is just a spark to get you started. It doesn’t matter if this has been done before, because it may evolve into something that has not.
That’s where creative writing prompts (click here for our in-depth article on creative writing prompts) can come in handy. By finding an idea that sparks your interest, you can fill out the rest of the story to your heart’s desire, often coming up with something that no one else has created beforehand. The result may not be what you intended for The Next Great American Novel, but then again, you never know…