Have you ever sat down to write and thought of almost one hundred other things you could be doing? Or better yet, actually started to do one of those hundred things instead? The hardest part about writing is simply getting started. The most common complaint I hear is, “I don’t know where to start.” When you build a house you start with the foundation, when you build a car you start with a frame. Are you waiting for me to tell you that you need an outline? If you hate outlines, today is your lucky day.
Start where you want to start. There aren’t many industries or processes where this is the case. A lot of what I write is inspired by a single idea or even a single sentence that sounds intriguing. Write it down and expand. Maybe what you’re writing will end up being your conclusion, or body paragraph- the point is you don’t have to know these things just yet, and you certainly don’t need to start at the beginning. In fact, I would advise against it. Even if most of what you write isn’t salvageable, it gets your fingers typing. That’s better than going to the kitchen for another cup of coffee (aka procrastinating).
Take your words, ideas, and thoughts, and spew them out onto the paper. Direction, clarity, and cohesiveness are all irrelevant. Just get it out. Possibly something you write inspires a subsequent sentence. Write it. This is what my page looked like this far into the process:
Post about writers block
Editing is key
Don’t worry about direction at first. Your ideas don’t have to relate
Just start writing whatever comes to mind- you can delete later
Next, see what looks good. Read through your mess and see what is compelling and interesting. See how what you’ve got down might work together, see if you can find a common denominator between everything that can help connect your ideas and make them flow. Cut and paste everything you have into different places on the page to see how these words work best with each other. When writing this post, this is what my page looked like this far into the process:
Start where you want to start- not necessary to start at the beginning.
Word vomit everything down, even if it’s not relevant
Organize the mess
Expand on what’s good
Edit (include quote)
As you can see, I knew some big ideas of what I wanted to say, I just had to get them out first before I could expand on each one and connect them.
This is where I apologize. I may have tricked you into making an outline. But please forgive me and understand I had good intentions- you didn’t end up back in the kitchen for another snack and you have words down on the paper. Victory! (Plus there is no need for roman numerals and formulaic indenting; my outlines are a little more fun).
As you arrange your ideas into place, try to see these as points on which you can expand and grow into paragraphs. Hopefully now you can see a sense of direction. Possibly half of what you wrote is deleted because there were two or three things that seem to work better than the others. Take what works well and run with it. This will help you create your first draft, or as industry expert Ann Handley calls it, The Ugly First Draft (TUFD).
Creating TUFD is a necessary yet painful step. Your word processing program seems to love red and green squiggly lines during this process. That’s ok. Keep going. Sometimes when I’m writing and I go back I can’t even figure out what I was trying to say because my mis-types are so bad. Just so you know, this sentence in my TUFG read, “SOmetiomes when I’m writing I go back and I cane y ebey fiture out what I was trying to say vecause my mis types arte so bad.” I kept going. Don’t start refining before you have all the text written. You have to get the substance out there and then you can refine.
Ann Handley also says that, “The people you think of as good writers are often terrible writers on their first drafts. But here’s their secret: They are excellent editors of their own work.” I second that! I also third, fourth, and fifth that! Editing is where the magic happens. All of the above is simply to give you something to edit.
If writing is a substantial part of your day, even if it’s just emails, I urge you to read Ann Handley’s book, Everybody Writes. It is a wonderful book comprised of many short chapters. I absolutely loved it and felt it relevant for beginners and seasoned writers alike. I skipped over the chapters that I didn’t feel were relevant and book marked the great ones. It is a great guide that I keep on my desk.
I would like to end with a quote, “A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die before putting a word on paper.” Dramatic? Maybe a little. But the idea is real. You just have to start. A single sentence, word, or letter, and half the battle is won.