Writing is Hard: How to Get Started

By Shannon Houston

Blank Word documents are just mocking me, it seems. (Photo cred: The Siskiyou/Shannon Houston)

Blank Word documents are just mocking me, it seems. (Photo cred: The Siskiyou/Shannon Houston)

Confession time: I have started this column over more times than I’m proud to admit. I have tossed this idea back and forth so many times that I’m surprised it’s not too bruised to even take shape anymore. This column has helped me become who I am today: a master of procrastination.

This is a column about writing.

I put something on Twitter not that long ago about wondering if I was the only writer who procrastinated writing with other writing. I don’t mean the kind of writing that’s assigned to me every week due to be double-spaced with a works cited page at the end. I’m talking about creative writing, the thing I’ve claimed to be my passion since I was five years old.

Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely love to write. I have a wall in my bedroom dedicated to pages of yellow legal paper with story ideas that I someday hope to pursue. I have files and files of Word documents on my computer full of stuff that I’ve started but only reached page five with. When I pry myself away from the computer, I tend to go sit outside and add more ideas to yellow legal paper to un-clutter my brain and re-clutter my walls.

I’m completely and totally convinced that I’m meant to be a writer. So… the issue is just getting started.

There is nothing quite as daunting as a blank Word document. A piece of blank notebook paper is much more inviting, but I tend to get frustrated the minute I make a mistake with my ink (I write in pen to put a little risk in my life) and then I have to scribble it out and it’s no longer pretty.

But I wouldn’t be talking to you now if I hadn’t actually started typing words, if I hadn’t just jumped in hoping for the best with “confession time.” Honestly? That happened because I’m sitting in a friend’s house after staying the night, waiting for that friend to wake up. I have this weird little challenge in my head that I might be able to write 500 words before she opens her bedroom door. I told my professor that I’d try to do the column for real this week, and that was another challenge that I didn’t really feel like turning down.

That’s my first suggestion to you: turn your writing into a challenge. Make starting those first few paragraphs a game that you can’t win until you see them on the page. Then, don’t reward yourself with an hour of Netflix; just keep going with the shred of inspiration you have. Sometimes you’ll realize you’re past 500 words but still have something to say, which is kind of the boat I find myself on now.

Then, set a deadline for yourself. Honestly? That’s probably the biggest way to issue your own challenge. Be realistic with your deadlines—don’t stress yourself out and set yourself up for failure by saying you’re going to write a paper in three hours. Do something reasonable that will allow you to amaze yourself when you succeed, or to be amazed at how much progress you’ve made even if you don’t succeed.

My number-one suggestion for just getting started? Channel that inner voice inside your head. In the first few drafts of this column I was trying to be somebody impressive that would sound like they knew what they were doing when giving advice. That’s stupid. I didn’t get a flow going until I started talking like me, getting inside my own head, if you will. Even if doing that doesn’t yield any magic for whatever writing you’re working on this week, it’s a good way to at least get words on the page that you can pull from in the future.

Good luck, writers! I hope this helps you get started on your masterpiece!

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