Beverley Scherberger

The only Writer / Editor you'll ever need.

#7 Writing: How to Start?

When initiating a writing session, do you feel like you're thinking in circles...?

When initiating a writing session, do you feel like you’re thinking in circles…?

I like to address my posts to those really interested in writing. To that end, I am more than willing to try and answer questions posed to me in the Comment section. Today, I have a question from Christian:

First of all I would like to say terrific blog! I had a quick question in which
I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to find out how you center
yourself and clear your thoughts before writing. I have had a hard time clearing
my mind in getting my ideas out. I truly do take pleasure in writing but it just
seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally lost simply just trying to
figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or hints? Thank you!

You don’t indicate whether you are an experienced writer and have dealt with this issue for some time or if you’re relatively new. Some of what I wrote in an earlier post regarding “Dealing with Procrastination and Distraction” would also apply to this situation.

If you have a choice about your subject matter (i.e. it’s not an assigned topic), choose a topic you are familiar with and / or passionate about. It’s always easier and more interesting to write about a subject you have strong feelings for. It should be a simple matter to begin writing about your favorite sport, hobby, project, food, etc.

Decide whether you need to narrow your focus. You might have such a broad topic in mind that it’s difficult to know where to start. Narrow it down to a subject-within-a-subject, or even narrower yet, and see if it’s easier to know what to say.

And if you know what type of article you’re going to write (press release, short story, travel article, human interest, etc.), that should help you figure out what information should be included in the first paragraph. It’s a start!

If you don’t have a regular writing regimen in place, I would suggest establishing a routine. Pick a time of day when you aren’t rushed to do something or be somewhere immediately after. A time when others don’t need “a piece of you” and you can concentrate without being distracted.

And don’t wait until midnight when everything else is done and you’re exhausted. Unless you’re a night owl and do your best work at that time of the evening, pick a time of day when you feel fresh, alert, and eager to write ~ not tired, wanting to go to bed, and feeling that writing is just “one more chore” that you have to do. You’ll be much more creative if you’re wide awake and eager to put your thoughts on paper.

Shut off your phone, pager, TV… anything that will distract you. Do not answer the door. Lock the dog out of the room. Close yourself off from the rest of the house and, unless it’s an emergency, ignore friends and family for the next hour ~ or however long you intend to work. They will forgive you…

I would suggest finding a “work place”. It could be your home office, a corner of the living room, an unused guest room… And use that same place day after day. You’ll train your mind and body to know that you are “working” when you’re in that space. I don’t recommend sitting on the bed to work. When you go to bed at night, you don’t want your body and mind to think you’re supposed to work. And neither do you want your body and mind to think they are supposed to sleep when you intend to work. You get the picture…

I have often played soft, instrumental, sometimes classical music when writing. It helps to mask any other distracting sounds from the rest of the house or outside. Don’t use anything with words or lyrics ~ those can be a distraction you don’t need, while soft, wordless, backgound music helps you focus.

If you know you’re going to spend 10 to 15 minutes “getting into the mood”, anyway, use that time creatively instead of fighting it. Perhaps you could try free-writing. Set a timer for 15 minutes and then write whatever comes into your mind. Don’t edit, don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar…. just write…

This should help you ‘settle in’ and get comfortable at the keyboard, warm up your ‘writing muscles’, and perhaps even give you a direction for the piece you want to write. When the timer goes off, stop. No matter where you are or what you’re writing about ~ stop.

Instead of being frustrated and feeling like you’ve wasted time, you ought to feel ready to write. You’ve done your mental calisthenics, you’ve freed your mind to think whatever it wanted, and now you’re ready to buckle down and get to work. You might surprise yourself and find some new inspiration…

If you don’t have a pre-selected topic, you could continue with what you wrote during your Free-Write session. If your free-writing jumped around from subject to subject, select a topic that seems the most interesting to you at the moment and go with that.

You  could also use that initial 15 minutes to meditate ~ if you’re the meditation type… This works for some writers I know, however, I personally find it puts me more in the mood to take a nap than to work. It’s all in personal preference.

Another possibility is to use the first quarter-hour to draft a rough outline. No complete sentences, no grammar or punctuation to worry about… Just a very rough outline of the topic you’ve selected. It should at least help you get started.

And for the rough draft, don’t agonize over exactly where or how to begin ~ just begin…  The Chinese philosopher, Lao-tzu, said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” The same holds true with writing a book, a press release, or any type of article or story ~ it all begins with writing that first word and continuing on from there. And the great thing about writing is that you can always go back and change it!

So, as you might have surmised, there is no right or wrong way to begin. You need to find what works for you. Some well-known authors get up at the crack of dawn (or earlier) to write. Some stay up all night long, once they get into the ‘zone’. If you have a 9 – 5 job, obviously you need to fit your writing in either before or after. You know your body clock better than anyone else ~ do you function better early in the morning or late at night? Do you have a “power dip” in the middle of the afternoon? Do you have to go to bed before 10:00pm in order to get up with the alarm in the morning?

Schedule your writing when you’re the most alert, the most creative, and the most eager to write. If it’s fun, you’ll keep at it. If it’s a chore, you won’t…

I hope you find this post helpful! And I’d love to hear back from you at some point to know how your writing is going…

Remember, until the next post…

“Read to escape reality . . . Write to embrace it.”   ―     Stephanie Connolly


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