Sometimes, even if we have overcome our fear and found the time, it’s difficult to get the pen moving across the page or our fingertips tapping on the keyboard. Though we have summoned the courage and carved out the hour, we may simply not know where to begin. Despite slaying some of our demons, we find ourselves once again paralyzed by writer’s block, only this time the culprit grinning at us from the blank page is confusion.
The beginning of a project can make you feel like you’re standing at the foot of a very large and very intimidating mountain. Worse, as you contemplate the task before you, that imposing edifice seems to rise up out of the earth, stretching higher and higher above you, sending small avalanches of stones skittering and sliding in your direction. The longer you wait, the bigger the challenge becomes, until you may as well be trying to climb to the moon.
It’s not that bad. I promise.
Here are a few tips to help you cut that mountain down to size (or, at least get your feet moving up the first slope):
Break it down: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Not that I’d want to eat an elephant. At all. But, it’s a well-known analogy that also applies to any project. It’s not enough for you to block out time to “work on your novel.” You need to get specific about what you will do: work on an outline, do a character sketch of the heroine’s older sister, write the first scene of chapter three, edit chapter ten. Breaking the Big Thing down into smaller bites makes it a lot more palatable (and less scary). This was never better said than by Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. (A book I highly recommend for writers of all kinds.)
Have a plan: Of course, to break things down, you need to understand the component parts of your project. This is what makes it possible to develop a good plan. Do you have a process for writing a story, a blog post, a novel? How do you break things down? If you’re not sure, get sure. Figure out how you get from start to finish. For a blog post, it might involve brainstorming, mind mapping, research, a first draft and a couple rounds of edits. For a more complex project – like a novel – you’ll have more steps. I am a fan of Larry Brooks’ Storyfix planning process for fiction writing. Good stuff.
Though the artist in you might rail against the idea of process, there is something empowering about knowing where you’re going. Give yourself the gift of a roadmap for your creative journey. Just because you are making a plan doesn’t mean it won’t be an adventure.
Start in the middle: They say that starting is the hardest part, and they are right. The first word, the first sentence, the first paragraph – these are often the most daunting tasks in a writing project. How do we get the ball rolling? What brilliant line will hook our readers into reading the rest of the piece? Why, oh, why can’t we think of a single opening statement? Relax. Forget about it. It’s true that your finished piece will need a first line, but that doesn’t mean you have to start there. Start in the middle. Just start writing anything – whatever comes easily. The important thing is to build up some momentum – give yourself that jumpstart and then keep going. You’ll eventually circle back to the beginning … when you’re ready.
Remember that nothing is written in stone: One of the most beautiful things about writing is the iterative nature of the process. In truth, most of our writing is never done – we simply set it free when we reach a random point of satisfaction. The first draft is only the beginning. It’s not meant to be perfect. No one else ever has to see it. You will get a second chance, and a third, and a fourth, and … you get the idea. The first draft should be crap. That’s what first drafts are for. Revel in the realization that you have the freedom to go ahead and make a mess of things. Breathe a sigh of relief and just play. Get some words down. Give yourself something to work with. That is the writer’s first job.
Bonus: remember self-care: Creative juices don’t flow well when you’re all tied up in knots. Give yourself the gift of some TLC. Give yourself some love. Give yourself a break. Sometimes, the wisest thing you can do is walk away … for a little while. Go for a walk. Clear your head. Give your mind something else to chew on for a while. I guarantee that if you can give your creative muse the room to stretch and breathe, she’ll come back to you with the solution to your problem. I get most of my best ideas while I’m driving, doing yoga, or taking a shower. Don’t try to force things. Take care of your need for reflection, fun, play … whatever gets you going. It’ll help put you in the right frame of mind for developing your plan, breaking down your Big Project, and getting started with enthusiasm and joy.
So, how about you? What are you going to start today? How are you going to start? Tell us and then get going and get it going!
This is the third post in a series about the causes of that fictitious condition known as writer’s block. In the previous entry, we talked about finding the time to write and in the first we tackled the topic of fear. I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone who feels they have suffered from this inability to put words down. I just believe that if we can uncover and face the root causes of this uniquely literary affliction, we can slay the writer’s block dragon and get back to the work at hand. Who’s with me?
Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who also happens to be a marketer. She helps her Suddenly Marketing clients discover their voice, connect with their audience, and find their marketing groove. She is also a mom, a prolific blogger, and a student of voice and trapeze (not at the same time). Introduce yourself on facebook or twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.
Image Credit: gigi 62