(Thank you, Timon, for the title quote.)
It took me three or so days to figure out how to start this writing blog. I kept thinking, “What do I write about first? There’s so many options! How do I know where to begin?” I pondered and pondered it until I realized, wait. This is precisely what people struggle with every day: where and how to begin.
Starting anything new is difficult. Certain things, of course, are facilitated with guidance. When you take a new class, an instructor will lead you through the process of learning. When you’re part of a team, everyone’s got a unique role to play, allowing the group to focus on multiple things at once. Unorganized tasks, however, are another beast. They can make the smallest of molehills appear as tall as Everest. How are you going to handle all this? Where do you even start?
When you start a personal writing project, be it fiction or nonfiction, it’s common to have a wealth of unorganized ideas. They make the thought of putting pen to paper or fingers to keys intimidating. There’s so much to talk about, and there’s so much vying for your attention in your brain; how do you even choose where to begin? What if you start in the wrong place? What if you forget to include something? What if it turns out wrong, or fails to live up to your expectations?
It’s important to have the following four concepts in mind when starting a writing project, especially if it’s your first time writing in a long while (or ever!). These are things I’ve learned over my 20+ years of writing, and applying them has vastly improved not only my output, but my confidence as well.
- “Every first draft is perfect, because all a first draft has to do is exist.” – Jane Smiley
I know many writers who worry that their first drafts are trash. This worry keeps them from writing more, because they’re convinced they’ll only add to the trash heap. I’m going to tell you now: it doesn’t matter whether or not your first draft is garbage. It truly doesn’t. Unless you’re writing an essay at 3 am to be turned in at 7 am, your first draft is not going to be your final draft. You can fix your writing, but you can only fix something that’s already been written down. That’s your main goal with your first draft: getting something down.
- You are not required to make sure every word is perfect before moving on.
I see this habit most often with writers who fret about having a perfect first draft. Now, if this method genuinely works for you, have at it! Just be sure this isn’t turning into a crutch that keeps you from moving forward. If you’re spending an hour trying to pick the perfect word to describe an emotion, it may be time to reconsider this editing method. I’ll go over strategies on how to overcome this habit in another post.
- Start wherever you want.
A story can, frankly, start anywhere. Do you start working on the protagonist’s childhood and backstory in an effort to develop them? Do you start in the middle of an action scene to get the reader’s attention? Do you start at the very end and do one of those, “You’re probably wondering how I got here” things you see in movies? There are so many choices, it’s easy to be overwhelmed – but guess what. You can start wherever you want. None of these options are wrong. Start wherever will get you excited about what you’re writing and go from there.
- Anything and everything can be changed later.
Part of the fear of making mistakes is the fear that you won’t be able to correct them. I am here to reassure you that, if you find any mistakes in your writing, it’s okay. You can correct them later. Unlike real life, where everyday is a first and final draft, you can rewrite the same scene as many times as you need. You can move things around. You can remove things that aren’t working. You can reword things to make them clearer. Nothing is permanent in your writing unless you want it to be.
These four concepts are meant to reduce your writing anxiety. They are here to give you the freedom to start without the fear of failure. If one of these does not make you less anxious, then don’t follow it.
It might be hard to internalize these ideas right away, but that’s all right. Repeat them to yourself as needed. Starting something can be scary, but that doesn’t have to be the only emotion you feel. You can feel excited, too! The stories you write are full of potential, just like you. All you have to do is get started.