For many people, figuring out how to start writing is the biggest stumbling block preventing them from reaching their goals: of publishing a book, of winning a short story contest, of passing a class. Every project begins with an empty page, and filling that blank space with words can be daunting (especially if you have the wrong reasons for wanting to write in the first place.)
Here are a few steps to help you figure out how to start writing without losing focus or stressing out.
1) Get ready.
After you’ve decided 1) what it is that you want to write—e.g. a college essay, a scientific paper, a novel…even, ahem, a tweet—and 2) when it is that you want to finish writing it, make sure you gather the tools you need to write effectively.
Some people need to write in absolute silence. In that case, find a quiet space in your home or at the library where you can work effectively. Others might be more comfortable in the hustle and bustle of a busy coffee shop. Still others might need to multitask; these people do their best writing while watching a movie or listening to an audiobook. Do whatever works for you.
2) Plan it out.
Knowing exactly what it is you’re going to write before you write it can help you stay focused while you write.
Of course, how detailed this plan needs to be depends on the project and your personal preferences. For example, many novel writers make detailed outlines of each chapter. (Consider J.K. Rowling’s handwritten outline of the fifth Harry Potter book.) Others prefer a more casual approach, jotting down general ideas about what should happen when without getting too bogged down in the details.
Whatever style works best for you, try to have an idea about what your writing project should look like before you begin. It’s also a good idea to refer to your plan while you write and change it as needed. Remember: it’s much easier to make it to your final destination when you have a plan for how to get there.
3) Stay focused.
Set aside dedicated periods of time for your writing, and don’t work on anything else during that time. This will help you stay on track.
Above all else: avoid distractions. Turn off your phone. Don’t check your email or Twitter or Facebook. Browser apps like StayFocusd for Google Chrome and LeechBlock for Mozilla Firefox can help keep you focused on your work.
4) Take a break.
Don’t be afraid to step away from your project for a while. If you start to feel stressed or burned out, take a breather. Forcing yourself to work when you’re mentally fatigued will only end up hurting you in the long run.
Do you have writer’s block? Go for a walk to clear your head. Take a shower. Exercise. These types of activities can help place you in a meditative headspace that can help you get the creative juices flowing again.
5) Get a posse.
Writing doesn’t have to be done in a vacuum. Consider joining a writer’s group: your school’s creative writing club, your local library’s regular writing workshop, an online critique group, things like that.
This will connect you with like-minded individuals so that your writing isn’t a lonely and isolating experience. Your new writer friends will give you the cheerleading you need to finish your writing goals, offer you advice on the writing process, and can even provide valuable feedback on your work that can help you polish your work into the best it can be.
So what are you waiting for?
Writing can be a lot of work, but beginning is the hardest part. Once you’ve figured out how to start writing, the rest is cake.
What do you think? Do you have any other advice for aspiring writers who are just starting out?