Beginning a piece of writing can cause so much anxiety that we freeze up and feel we have nothing to say. If you have trouble getting started, try these tricks:
Lower your standards. I know it seems strange for a writing teacher to tell you to lower your standards, but the beginning of your writing process is no place for perfectionism. Anne Lamott reveals that “all good writers write . . . shitty first drafts.” What she means is that productive writers know that an initial draft is for you, the writer, not for a reader, and so it is a place to be messy, experimental, ridiculous, playful, and silly. You may have heard that a good brainstorming session should ban the word “no,” allowing all ideas, no matter how seemingly ridiculous, to be considered. An initial draft should be treated similarly—don’t shut down any ideas or words that find their way onto the page or screen. Turn off your inner editor. The time for editing will come, don’t worry—but don’t start editing until you have something to edit.
Form a writing habit. If you engage in “binge writing”—going for days or weeks or months without writing and then trying to fit all your writing into one long session—consider that Robert Boice’s research into creativity indicates that writing in regular, short sessions is more productive than writing in occasional long sessions. Aim to write for 30 minutes a day rather than 3 hours a week, and keep in mind that forming a habit takes discipline and commitment.
Work with your nature. If you are a morning person, schedule your daily writing to occur in the morning, if possible. If you are not a morning person, planning to write at 7 a.m. every morning is sure to fail. Try to find a fairly consistent time that will work for you. Another approach is to find something that happens regularly that energizes you and piggy back your writing time on that. For example, I always feel positive and energized after working out, so I schedule my writing time to immediately follow my work outs. If you can’t do that, try the opposite approach: figure out what drains your energy and do NOT schedule your writing time to follow that. For example, if you have a regular meeting that leaves you cranky and demoralized, do not plan to write after that meeting.
Don’t start at the beginning. Many people—including me—find introductions difficult to write. DO NOT BEGIN DRAFTING YOUR PIECE BY WRITING THE INTRODUCTION. There is a fairly obvious reason for this: since you haven’t yet written the piece, you don’t really know what you’re introducing. Write the introduction last. The introduction itself will be easier to write and you won’t begin your writing session with an impossible task. Start with something easy, like an anecdote about how you got interested in the topic.
Utilize ass power. You can talk about writing all you want, but the only way the writing will actually get done is if you spend a certain amount of time with your butt in a seat (or, if you’ve embraced the standing desk craze, with your butt near a desk), writing. Yes, writing. To get writing done, you must actually write. If your daily writing time comes around and you’re not in the mood, put your butt in the seat anyway and write. Maybe only gibberish will come out, but maybe you’ll surprise yourself. Force yourself to write for 15 minutes and see what happens.