One of the most common questions I get from aspiring writers is “How do I start?” The ideas are in their heads, but the problem is getting them on paper.
Whether you are writing magazine articles, story stories, novels, or even homework assignments—here are some tips for improving on the blank page.
1) Sift Through Your Ideas. Realize some ideas will remain just that . . . ideas. When I first began writing in 1994 I wanted to use everything—every cute thing my children did, every Scripture verse that stirred my heart, and every flash of inspiration. I soon realized that although my ideas were good ones, I didn’t have enough time in the day to use them all. So what did I do instead? I began keeping a journal. It’s just for me, and I don’t worry how it looks. I use regular, spiral-bound notebooks, and I have them on hand to write down my prayers, favorite Scripture verse, to-do lists (I always start these on a clean page in case I need to tear them out), and writing ideas. Sometimes the words stay in there as just ideas. Other times I’ll go back to them, ponder them, and jot down more notes. Then, if I can’t shake it, I know it’s time to take a closer look, and I ask these questions:
- Is this something God wants me to write?
- Who is my target audience?
- What are the needs of this audience?
- What would be the best format for my message?
As much as we don’t like to think of “publication” in these early stages, this is an important step. To be effective as writers, we need to mold our message into a medium that will reach people. Many times I think of two or three different venues such as how-two articles, personal experience articles, or books.
The next step is to prayerfully consider where God wants me to share my message. And when. I still have ideas that God gave me years ago that I hope to use some day. Some, perhaps will “come to life” after a long hibernation. Others may not, and instead they may just be message that God speaks to my own heart.
2) Open the Page and Start Writing. Once you know that you want to write—or have to write—the next step is to begin. Yes, that means opening a blank page and just starting. Once I start typing I’m often surprised how much is already in my head. I refer to this first step as “cleaning the pipes,” and I pour everything in my head and heart onto the page. For articles or non-fiction these might be paragraphs of writing mixed in with various ideas. For fiction, it may be character description, story ideas, research notes, or any combination of the above.
Most people want “perfect writing” from the moment they start typing. This just doesn’t happen. Instead of striving for perfection, give yourself the freedom to “play around with the words.” Your first draft will NOT make it to publication. You don’t need it perfect when you begin. Don’t think about grammar, about your theme, about crafting perfect sentences. Instead, just let the ideas take you where they will.
3) Write Fast. Once you allow yourself to start writing, keeping going and don’t stop! I find my best writing comes when I let the ideas flow. I don’t stop to read what I’ve just written. I don’t pause to think. I don’t worry what an editor would think about my grammar. I just let the thoughts continue on uninterrupted. The funny thing is . . . this fast writing usually ends up as my best stuff!
After you get all your thoughts on paper. Close your document and give yourself a break. Refuse to go back and read what you just read . . . instead carry around your notebook or journal and write down any ideas that you can add to your work-in-progress. Think of this as a pot of soup simmering on the stove and add in whatever ideas come to you during the day.
I get ideas when I’m in the shower, while I’m driving, or when I’m cooking dinner. The ideas will do their own work in your head. Just make sure you’re ready to jot down further thoughts. (This also means keeping a notebook and pencil beside your bed!)
Ideas from other writers:
I write from start to finish myself, but here are some techniques I’ve seen offered by other writers: 1) Write down the theme of her book. What is your overarching message? Then go from there. 2) Write the climatic scene and go backward from there. 3) Another way is to begin with the characters themselves, then work on putting them in the situation that will be your story.
Start with a good synopsis, character sketch, backstory and timeline. Maybe start with a setting description. Begin by getting to know you setting and characters.
Natalie Goldberg wrote a book called Thunder and Lightning about “writing practice.” She suggested doing timed writing practice on a variety of subjects. For example: write fifteen minutes about school lunches, twenty minutes describing your first kiss, or ten minutes describing the way your grandmother’s kitchen smelled.
Personally, I have a book where I write a verse of Scripture at the top of the page and write about it for 15-30 minutes. I allow myself to go whereever I feel like going with the thought. I am surprised sometimes at what comes out.
I suppose it is journaling of sorts . . . but more than that, because there are some real gems that may actually become an article.
I found a book that really helped me called Beginnings, Middles and Ends. It helped because it made me think of my book in three parts. I could do that. I could think of the beginning of my story, and then began to lay it out. Just the beginning. And of course, before long a middle started to emerge.
Eva Marie Everson
My “getting started” typically comes from a single line. That opening hook line just comes to me out of nowhere. I have an “idea” in my mind for plot and character . . . but wait on the first line. That’s how it works for me.
Looking for a market to write for? Interested in writing for a Christian magazine? Check out the theme list for Lookout Magazine. They might just have a topic that’s perfect for you to write!
Angela Breidenbach says
Excellent. I love how you incorporated other author ideas too. I’ve started to write by creating the amount of chapters I need, then each chapter has a snippet of an idea to make sure I don’t forget either the plot line for fiction or the concept for the chapter in non-fiction.
Screwed Up Texan says
Great tips as always. Probably would have helped Larry with his writer’s block: “The night was moist.”
Okay, so you just have to have seen Throw Momma from the Train to get that…
Anne Lyken-Garner says
Fabulous tips. I just responded to your ‘follow’ on Twitter and found this blog though your link.
This is a lovely space you’ve got here.
This was very helpful. I use so many excuses as to why I havent really started writing.
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