Please welcome guest author Dana Leipold with a post about getting started on a piece of writing.
How many times have you gotten an idea for a book, but when you sat down to write it you froze or started playing Words with Friends instead?
The hardest part of any writing endeavor is getting started. You are turning a nebulous thought into something real and tangible—but that blank page or computer screen can be intimidating.
Professionals even grapple with getting started:
“One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily.” — Gabriel Garcia Marquez
The difference between a professional writer and someone who does it as a hobby is that a pro knows how to get over that initial hurdle. In my experience as a copywriter and author, I’ve used a few tried-and-true techniques that have worked for me. I’ve also seen what other professional writers do and stolen their techniques too. Don’t tell on me!
Here is a list of six techniques for going from your head to the page that can work for any writer—from novice to the seasoned professional.
1. Get Serious
You won’t be able to start anything if you don’t get serious. Professional writers see the process of writing as a business. They can’t sell their books, their ideas, or their expertise if they don’t have a product. Writing is their product.
Many authors see writing as their raison d’être or their life’s mission. If you have been given a mission (meaning an idea for a book that won’t go away) it’s your job to start it and see it to its completion.
Is it time for you to get serious about your writing?
2. Set Little Goals
You’ve got to put a stake in the ground so you can aim for it. Sometimes this is what blocks new writers because setting the vague goal of writing a book can feel monumental and overwhelming. If you set manageable, little goals, you can trick yourself into getting started. A little goal could be a word count or a predetermined number of pages or scenes. To me, achieving 1,000 words feels a lot easier than “writing a book.” The important thing is to set a goal that you can complete and will feel like an accomplishment when it’s done.
3. Use Productivity Tools
Productivity is the lifeblood of any writer. How much are you writing? Not enough? Not sure? Luckily there are tools out there that can help you stay on task:
750 Words is an online tool that rewards writers with points for producing 750 words (roughly three pages) of work at a time. There’s a social element too: users can see how fellow site members are doing with drafts of their own.
Another online tool is Write or Die, which is available as an app for iPads and PCs. It boosts your output by giving you a time limit and attaching consequences to procrastination. The website says, “As long as you keep typing, you’re fine but if you become distracted, punishment will ensue.” That punishment can range from a pop-up box admonishing your distraction, to seeing your work “unwrite” itself in Kamikaze Mode.
4. Build in Accountability
Tell someone you trust — a friend, partner, or even a coach — about your intention to write a book. Ask that person to keep you on task. A lot of writers also join writing clubs or critique groups to help keep them writing. It’s a lot like exercise: When you have a person or group that does it with you, there’s accountability built in and you are more likely to do it. We are less likely to flake out when we’ve told someone else that we’re going to write.
5. Schedule Writing Time Each Day
Pick a time each day to sit your butt down and write. What you’re doing is training yourself to be creative and productive at this time. Pick a day of the week and start with weekly scheduled writing sessions. Build that up to two days, three days, and so on. I guarantee that the more you write, the more you’ll WANT to schedule a time to do it every day.
6. Leverage Momentum
This is probably the most important step because this is what determines whether you get what is in your head onto the page (or not). Stephen King says you should write your first draft as quickly as possible: “I believe the first draft of a book—even a long one—should take no more than three months.”
Why is this so important? Because if you stop, it’s really hard to get started again. It’s less work to keep going than it is to restart from a dead stop. So don’t stop. Even if it feels overwhelming, eventually momentum will carry you through to a finished first draft.
Getting started is hard and not all that fun. Your inner procrastinator is all too willing to kick in at the thought of writing a book. No wonder so many writers don’t make it past the first page of their work. You are bringing forth something from nothing, which is an amazing thing. Instead of banging your head against the wall, try some of these techniques professional writers use to get over that initial hurdle, and you’ll be well on your way.
I’d love to hear from you: Do any of these techniques sound like they’d work for you? Do you have go-to techniques for getting started that you’ve found helpful? Please share in the comments below.
About the author: Dana Leipold is a writing coach and creative collaborator. She helps people write and publish books that change the world for the better. You can download her free training videos and more at danaleipold.com.
Solid advice. I might add one I find useful. If I can’t get started, I grab a pen and notebook and start a letter to my CP about my writing project. Half a page later, I’ve switched to the keyboard and never look back. 🙂
Robyn, Ooo, that’s a good one! Thanks for sharing!
Great advice! For me personally I need to write first thing in the morning, before my day gets started, before life takes over and I make excuse after excuse of why I can do it later. Getting those first few words completed first thing in the morning can help you, as you said, leverage momentum. It also provides a feeling of accomplishment for the day, since you have already accomplished a little victory.
Another way I leverage my writing is by setting a word count goal. I used to try for daily goals but quickly felt defeated and unmotivated if I did not make it. Now I have switched to a weekly goal, which allows me some room to breathe if I bomb a day.
Jason, sounds like you have a great system! Good for you! Keep writing!
I had a space away from home (but not very far) where I had my own little atmosphere. I was around people but I had music in my ears and coffee to help me out. I was able to unplug from the world (music and external people externalized the inner chaos/extra energy I usually had rumbling around, plus the music was upbeat so my inner critic danced to that while I was writing) and get down to it. I did the same time every week, for about an hour or however long felt right. Also, writing it down on paper worked best for me, and eventually I would convert to laptop.
I do that too Lily. I seem to do some of my most productive writing when I’m in a cafe with music in my ears. 🙂
I take notes–lots of notes. This is almost like writing and usually, before I know it I’m actually writing. Great tips!
Charlotte, that’s great! Any way you can get what’s in your head down is a wonderful idea. Keep on writing!