So you want to start writing, but you don’t know where to begin? Or maybe you have started, and now you’re having a pig of time? You feel stuck, blocked and can’t come up with another word.
Staring at the blank page or screen won’t do it, neither will reading about writing. (Although of course you should read what I write about writing!) Oddly enough, to write, what you have to do is write.
Whatever comes into your head, just write it. Pick any topic, even if it’s what you had for dinner last night. Write. If what comes into your head is :“I can’t do it,” then start there. Write that down.
If you think I am an idiot for suggesting such a thing, write that. Write about how much you despise me, how stupid I am.
“I can’t write that,” you might be thinking. But I’ll tell you a secret: nobody need ever know. Unless you want to, you don’t have to show what you write to anyone, and you can tear it up or hit the delete key as soon as you are done.
Which reminds me – generally, I find it easier to start off scribbling on paper, so you might try that. Not everyone feels that way, so it’s a good idea to try pen and keyboard and see what works for you.
We tend to think that we need to get everything right first time, that there should be no scribbles or mistakes. We are scared that what we’ve written won’t be good enough. I’ve felt that way, I’ve started stories and given up after a few sentences, and I’ve stared at blank screens. So has almost every other writer on this planet.
One of my favourite writers on writing is Anne Lamott. In Bird by Bird she says: “Almost all good writing beings with terrible first drafts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something – anything – down on paper.”
I find it helps to understand things when I have examples, so here’s an example of how to use this free writing technique:
I’m enjoying myself so much here! However, the point is not to impress you with my retelling of a classic nursery tale, but to show you how to get started.
It might seem silly to write down the thoughts that are floating around in your head, but in your head they interfere, convince you that you or your writing isn’t good enough – and so you stop.
Once self-judgements are on paper, they lose their power and become simply part of a process. So, write, write, write. Don’t worry about the quality. That comes later. Don’t worry about originality or poetic prose. That comes later. Don’t even worry too much about punctuation, spelling or grammar. That’s what spell-checkers are for! Seriously, don’t worry about them: as long as you can understand what you’ve written that’s all you need for a first draft. Spelling and grammar are important, but trying to get them correct in the first draft slows you down. This gives the nagging doubts in your head more time to organize themselves into a coherent argument for stopping! So write first, correct second (whatever your school teacher said!)
Once you have written a first draft, it’s time to go back, prune that first draft, and rewrite and rearrange. Then you can learn how to use adjectives effectively and why you need to care for your characters. You could even give your story a new title, maybe something really exciting, like – hmm – how about:
The Three Little Pigs?