Once Begun, It’s Half Done: 5 Writing Tips for Getting Started - A Guest Post by Brock Kirwin
Updated: Nov 9, 2020
"I hate writing, I love having written" – Dorothy Parker
I was struck by how deeply this quote resonated with me when I recently heard it mentioned in a podcast. I wouldn't go as far as to say I hate writing, but at times it can be stressful. Even as I am writing this blog post, I am worried about whether I will like the finished product or feel like I have to start all over again once I finish.
Since I was a double major in History and English at university, I'm very familiar with the writing process. At university, I learned a lot about myself and how I work. I realized early on that I was procrastinating all the time and that I had to confront whatever was making me put things off. Most of the time, I was afraid that I couldn't finish my big assignments, since I almost always enjoyed writing my shorter ones.
Hearing the quote by Dorothy Parker made me feel like I wasn't alone in my trepidations about writing. The quote also reminded me that if I overcame my fears, I'd feel great about putting my thoughts onto paper. Since Zoey likes to give her readers advice, I thought that sharing these five tips might help others confront the worries they have about their next paper, blog, or email.
Start Small: No matter how much you are writing, you must start with one word. Lately, I try to just get something down in a Word document because a blank page is always accompanied by a small sense of dread. I worry about whether I'll have enough ideas, if I'll like what I wrote, or, as I mentioned earlier, if I'll finish something and have to start all over. I try to cope with these feelings by rooting myself in the present moment and just taking a small step. I usually start by writing a list of ideas that I want to cover. Suddenly, my mind starts to draw connections between these topics, and in no time, I've got a rough idea of how I'll tackle my project. After that, I might create a more detailed plan, but this process mostly reminds me that it's ok if my first step isn't a giant leap.
Stop worrying about making your first draft perfect: Just about every piece of text you write could use a little revision, so don't feel bad when you pull your work apart with corrections. This tip is about focusing on the bigger picture to stop worrying so much about the little details. Don't get me wrong, the little details will matter eventually, but don't let them get in the way of putting your ideas down on paper. My sister is an artist, and I've never seen her start a landscape by painting individual blades of grass on a white canvas. You need to take broad strokes to set the stage for all the nuanced points you want to appear in the final product. This tip will be most effective if you start your project early. Still, you may only need a couple of hours to revise if you've been able to get all of your best ideas written into your first draft.
Talk it out: I've had some of my best writing ideas while speaking to my roommates. I think that is because I get too focused on individual points when I'm writing or don't really understand my topic. Talking to someone forces me to find the logical flow between my ideas since I'm more focused on making sure my audience understands me when I can see them. If I can't do that, I know I need to re-evaluate my thesis and stop adding more layers onto a paper with a poor foundation.
Don't be afraid to go back to the drawing board: It's easy to lose focus while writing a paper that isn't going well. I'll rewrite the same sentence over and over again until I can't remember how it connects to my broader themes. When I've caught myself doing this, it's best to widen my gaze and take a look at the paper as a whole. To reorient myself, I'll look at where I started and then think about where I want to go. While I'm doing this, I'll probably also take a look at my list of ideas to make sure that I'm covering everything I want to talk about. I rarely have to start all over after doing this, but I might take out a few paragraphs that don't sound good. Despite the losses I may incur, I think that coming back to my writing with a renewed sense of direction puts me further ahead in the long run.
Take a break: I feel like this tip is a little generic, but I want to include it because I really believe in the utility of taking a fresh look. Sometimes you're so wrapped up in your essay, blog post, or piece of copy that you can't see it for what it really is. It's like cooking a meal versus going to a restaurant. In the first scenario, you might not know how the food really tastes because the spices have overwhelmed your senses after cooking all day. In the second scenario, all the food smells are so new and fresh that you can't ignore them even if you try. When you come back after taking a break, you'll know very quickly if your paper stinks. This tip is so essential that I write some emails a day in advance because even the shortest documents will benefit from an objective perspective.
I hope this blog was helpful! I wish I knew the value of these tips a few years ago since I use them all the time now. If you're going to leave with anything from this blog, it should be to take your time. My tips work best when you give yourself a moment to breathe rather than trying to do them all at once. I'd also like to thank Zoey for letting me write a guest post for her blog; I was ecstatic to talk about something I love (and sometimes hate) doing! Leave a comment down below if you think you have any ideas to add or if you also get nervous about writing sometimes!