In the writing training I’ve delivered, I’ve found that people tend to face a couple of common challenges when it comes to getting going. Either they don’t know where to start, and they sit staring at that blank Word document and the blinking cursor, or they can’t prioritise information and form a coherent train of thought, so they “vomit” huge amounts of info on to the page and end up with what teachers call a “dog’s breakfast”.
I’ll chat about the latter some other time, but as someone who writes for a living, I thought I’d share my tips on beating the blank page today.
Yes, that was totally a mixed metaphor. But we’re not dealing with those today, so I’m hoping you’ll let me off.
When it comes to how to get started writing, the best piece of advice of advice I can give you is to do exactly that – get started writing. “Just do it”. Write your name if you have to. Write whatever random crap comes into your head. It really doesn’t matter. As a writing coach once told me, the only thing that all writers have in common is that they write.
That brings me neatly to my next point…
I actually used to have a sign over my desk with this written on it. It was a piece of advice Ron Irwin gave me during an online creative writing course many years ago, and it has stuck with me.
If you begin editing while you’re just getting started writing, you may end up fiddling and rewriting the same first paragraph over and over again. I have done this. It’s a big time suck.
Finish what you’re writing (or least get the first page down) before you start editing. In fact, I find I work best when I take a break after I’ve finished writing, have a cup of tea or a quick walk, and then edit my work with fresh eyes. I tend to be much better at catching little typos and at reassessing the flow, so I can move things around as needed.
Well, pretend to at least. I can’t remember who passed on this wisdom to me, but one of the most helpful “how to start” tips I’ve been given is to think about how you would explain what you’re writing to your best friend, and write as though you’re having that conversation.
Yes, you may need to make the tone more formal later, or include technical details your bestie might not care about, but starting out by literally telling your story in letter format to someone you know is a good way to get started.
I hope these three tips help you. I’d love to hear your ideas. Mail me at tamara at wordchef.co.za, or leave a comment below.