Starting is Often the Hardest Part of Writing

Its hard to get started

Starting is the hardest part of writing.

It’s hard when you are a newbie, terrified of the blank page in front of you, that you might not have any worthwhile words to put on it, or that you don’t even know how.

Starting is hard when you are a seasoned writer, with thousands or even millions of words under your belt, for, amazingly enough, the exact same reasons as when you are a newbie.

It is hard when you’re at the start of a writing project, it’s hard when you’re in the middle, and it is hard when you’re nearing the end.

Why is it getting started so damn hard? And what can be done about it?

I don’t know the answer to the first question. Why should it be so hard to get started putting words on the page?  I suspect it might have something everything to do with fear, though even that doesn’t make a lot of sense because: there you are writing, and nobody has to see what you’re working on until you choose to let them.

So what’s the big deal? Why is it possible that every other chore, not matter how trivial,  can take precedence over your writing? How the stupidest of internet articles can suddenly seem like the most vital of things to read when you’re confronted by the blank page?

Maybe it is the fear you’ll get lost. Lost in the wonder of creating a story, lost in another world, gone far beyond the boundaries of your current reality. Which is what writing does for us, right?

Anyway, we could debate the whys all day, but long ago I learned that sometimes there is no why and it is fruitless to waste time trying to figure it out. The more helpful route is to learn what can be done.

How to make starting easier.

The tried and somewhat tired advice is to tell yourself all you have to do is work for 15 minutes. Or 10. Or 5. The theory being that once you start, you’ll get absorbed and go much longer. And this is, indeed, true. But it still doesn’t get you off the internet and working on your writing.

There has to be a spark that propels you there eagerly. Or at least dutifully. Or you’ll never start those first few minutes, right? I have some suggestions, and most of them are what I call foundational work–the kind that creates a backdrop of energy and excitement for the work, so that instead of stalling, you can’t wait to get started.

Know where you’re going. If there is any one thing that will help you get started, it is knowing where you are going. If you don’t know where to go next in your writing, you’ll wander before you even get to the page. How to make sure this happens? Make notes when you end your previous writing session so you know what’s up next. If you get to a place where you don’t know (this happens), take time to write notes or a journal entry to figure it out. Because this will lead you to:

Power of momentum.  The magic “M” word.  Can’t beat it. Once you get momentum, you are off and running, baby. You leave off your writing session sadly and can’t wait to start again next time. Which is what we freaking want. Momentum happens when you are writing regularly. Which is why every writing instructor on the planet encourages you to do so.

Follow the juice.  Go where the energy of the session takes you. Maybe you’re all excited about writing the wedding scene, but the funeral scene comes next and you are a strict chronological writer.  Don’t force yourself to write what you think you should.  Follow your excitement. (For the record, I have a hard time doing this, but I’m always pleased with the results when I do.)

Write everywhere in the piece.  I often take sketchy notes in the body of the file for the next scene. These may cover a lot of ground.  Similar to the above point, it can be tempting to force yourself to start at the beginning and trudge along. But you don’t have to–read your notes and start where you know what to write. It may be the middle of the scene, but who cares?

Write around the work regularly. By writing around, I mean taking notes and journaling about your work in progress. I could not write anything without doing this. I am constantly making notes to remind myself and using journal entries to figure out plot and character ideas. When I’m in the thick of it, as I was yesterday working on my rewrite, my desk is covered in sticky  notes. Come to think of it, I couldn’t work without sticky notes, either.

Okay, those are my thoughts on starting. Got any others to add to the mix? Leave a comment!

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