During this past DragonCon I had the privilege of speaking with a number of writers who were just beginning their journeys. It was so interesting that I wanted to write a series of articles for people who haven’t put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard in a long time and don’t know how to get started writing. People talk about starting to write from “Ground Zero.” I’m talking about writing from Ground Negative One.
Born Writers Who Don’t Write
Almost every single person I spoke to had a similar story. They used to write as children and dreamed of writing when they “grew up.” I did the same so I knew how they felt. We’d talk about writing stories, jokes, poems, and silly ideas on scraps of paper. How we kept these in a boxes or secret drawers. The most important thing was that we wrote fearlessly, reveling in the joy of creating something out of our imaginations.
Then, life got in the way. School. Marriage. Divorce. Jobs. Kids. For women, children are often the big stumbling block.
The point is, life’s obligations get in the way and we stop writing. We are writers at heart, writers born, but we don’t write. Yet, we never stop yearning. Everyone wants to get started writing.
Writers Who Write, But Not What We Want.
Because we love writing, many of us find writing adjacent jobs. Writing is our skill set, after all, so we find ways to make money doing it. For me, it was media relations, public relations, and social media marketing. Some people blog, or become journalists, teachers, or university professors. Others freelance and write magazine articles or become editors. (Don’t count out accountants and research scientists though. They often are writers deep inside and have the most interesting stories to tell.)
We write lesson plans, advertising copy, travel blogs, and press releases, and not what we want to write. No mystery thrillers or science fiction. No smutty romances or wild westerns. Nope, we become experts at grammar and passive voice as we write the next great powerpoint presentation on “Key Marketing Strategies and Trends.”
How Do Write What We Want? Or, Getting Started Writing.
The simple answer is to sit down at a computer or put pen in hand and write words. We know, however, that when writing from Ground Negative One, that is useless advice. It has to be broken down into steps.
Step 1. Absolutely ignore anyone who tells you that you can’t do it. More than ignore them, unfriend them. If they are a spouse or family member, explain to them that they are literally hurting you and if they can’t support you then they shouldn’t say anything. No doubt this is difficult, but it is necessary.
Step 2. Write ten words of a story. TEN words. One to two sentences. That’s it. You can do more, of course, but ten is enough. Notice I didn’t say they had to be good words. That it not the point. No editing at all at this point. Ten. That’s your job.
Step 3. Pick up a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing. Read at your leisure.
Step 4. The next day, write approximately ten more words. Maybe twenty. DO NOT worry about them being good words. Remember, you do not have to show them to anyone. In fact, you most likely never will.
Continue Writing in Small Doses
Step 5. Write another ten to twenty words a day, or more, if you have it in you and keep going each day until you’ve written the equivalent of a whole typed page, double spaced, Times New Roman, one inch margin. That’s about 250 words. Maybe that takes ten words a day for twenty-five days. Try to do them in a row, but if you can’t? So what? Don’t. Do them 20 words in fewer days with a day skipped here and there. Just do them. I’m not judgy.
Also, the words themselves don’t have to make sense. I would try not to go all, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” Shining style but if your story is just the beginning of a long one, or goes off the rails, or is a pile of steaming garbage dialogue, that’s alright by me and should be okay-d’oky by you, too. The point here is to get from Ground Negative One to Ground Negative 0.5.
Now, You’re Getting Started Writing.
Step 6: Evaluate. What did this feel like? Did you write your words at the same time every day? Different times? When did it feel most comfortable? Hand written and then put into the computer? Hand written only with a fountain pen? Typed on your Grandma’s typewriter or directly into the latest Macbook? Mostly, start thinking about what it would look like if you got into a routine.
Routine does not necessarily mean every day, or in the same place every day, or in the same manner every day, but it should mean–Key Words here, pay attention–Regularly and Often and in a way you can Save, Return and Build on your work.
This is the first stage in your journey to getting started writing.
That’s where we’ll end for this post. Remember that teeny tiny steps forward are still steps forward.
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