Monday, October 20, 2014

Getting Started

In_Gedanken_19_JhHaving trouble getting started? Here are some things that might help:

A. The first step is to relax.
You're supposed to be writing, not worrying about writing. You can't do both at once.

If you've already started worrying, the best way I've found to stop is to take a walk around the block, or go do the dishes or fold laundry, but not in front of the TV or where you're going to be talking to someone.

Basically, you need to do something that is different, that won't take long and that isn't very interesting. You want to change the mood, but not get completely distracted.

B. Figure out what you want to say. 
I've often suggested that you pretend you're writing a letter to a friend, because that can help you be more relaxed, but if you can't even decide how to start that letter, here's another approach:

Ask yourself these questions or sit down with a parent, sibling or friend and have them do the asking:

1. What are you writing about? Name of the book and author. Name of the movie and the main actors. Name of the event you went to or person you interviewed.

2. What was it about? What happened? Don't tell me everything, just tell me the basics: It was about a kid who finds out he's a wizard and he goes to this school. It has some funny parts, but it's a fantasy adventure and some parts are scary. He has these two really good friends and there's this kid he really doesn't like and then there's this kind of monster-demon-guy who wants to kill him.

3. Did you like it? Was it interesting? That's a "yes" or "no" question, but be honest. Just because you agreed to read a book or go to an event, you don't have to like it. Did you?

4. Why?  If you liked it, what were the best parts? If you didn't like it, what were the things that made you feel that way?

5. Do you think I'd like it? How come?

Write some notes as you talk, or don't. Everyone works differently. Some people need outlines, some people can't use them at all. Don't get hung up on details about how you do things; just try to clear up your thoughts.

C. The hardest sentence is always the first one. So write that one later.

Don't sit there staring at the screen trying to figure out a brilliant start. You do need a start, but it doesn't have to be brilliant.

Whatever it is, it doesn't matter. Just put something -- anything -- down so you can have that part out of the way. You can always go back and fix it later.

In fact, sometimes a brilliant start just messes you up, because you write a really clever first sentence and then you can't think of a really clever second sentence.

After awhile, you realize you're so hung up on being clever you forgot that you're just there to tell someone about a book, or movie or whatever.

"Brilliant" and "clever" aren't part of the assignment. You don't have to sing and dance and stand on your head. Just tell us what you were going to tell us.

D. Don't listen to me.
No, you're not going to hear me say that very often, but I'm saying it now. Everybody is different and every writer has different ways of working.

For instance, when I was a reporter, I began every story with my byline: "By Mike Peterson, Staff Writer."

But a buddy of mine in the newsroom never put in his byline until he was finished. "I wait until it's done before I put my name on it," he'd explain. "It's like signing a painting."

If you sit there worrying about "doing it right," you'll never do it at all. Or you'll do it, but it won't feel right.

E. My dog is happy.
I got to that last part and wasn't sure what else to say, so I took the dog for a walk around the block.

He really likes it when I'm having trouble writing something. Actually, that whole "If you get stuck, take a walk" thing was his idea.

(This guy needs a dog.)