Once you have established your purpose, subject, and audience, you are ready to start writing. This is the hardest part.
What is the most important part? Does this sound cliché? How do I draw my reader in? What’s the best way to get my point across? How can I avoid sounding stupid?
These are the questions that freeze my fingers when I sit down to write something. (This post included!) Even a simple email to a coworker, or a 160 character tweet can stop me in my tracks if I give it too much thought. Over time, I have learned that the best way to get started is to start anywhere. There are no predetermined ways to start a piece of writing, and there isn’t a great writer in history that didn’t have go through the painful process of transferring a good idea into a coherent piece of prose. Before editing, before spellcheck and grammar fixes, starting to write is (duh) the most important part of the process.
Here are few ways to push past the writer’s block and get those brilliant ideas on paper:
Skip the outline.
As both a student and a teacher, I was encouraged by the curricular powers-that-be to advocate outlines, charts, or other pre-writing activities to help generate and organize ideas. These methods can help, but let’s face it, no one is going to draw a cloud-diagram before writing an email to the boss. No one. Best way to get those ideas is write them, as they come to mind, directly to the page. Who cares what order they come in or if they logically progress because you can always rearrange them later.
Write the first thing first.
Don’t worry about starting at the beginning or writing that perfect first line, just write the first thing that you want to say. Purpose is sometimes a good place to start. What is the main thing you wanted to say? Write that, no matter how clumsy it comes out. You can always fix it later.
Even if you get halfway through a sentence and change your mind, just stop and start on a new line. There is no rule that says you have to finish a sentence if you get a better idea halfway through it. Start a new paragraph, or even a new page every time something else occurs to you. You may start with a new idea that you like better. You might decide to approach your subject in a completely different way, just write it all down.
Dumb it down.
Don’t get hung up on vocabulary or on avoiding every possible cliché, just get your ideas out as they come. Clichés can be a fast way to articulate your ideas initially. You can always come back and replace them with dazzlingly original metaphors, but for the first run, don’t get stuck because you can’t think of a way to say something that no one else has ever used before. Also, don’t worry about “sounding smart” or using SAT-worthy vocabulary. Use the words that come first. There is a good chance they will be the best words for the job in the end. For everything else, there is a thesaurus.
Don’t have the right words? Use someone else’s. As long as you don’t publish them as your own, it’s fine to borrow from other writers, speakers, or people you know when you are just getting the main ideas onto paper. The idea can still belong to you, even if the words were recorded by somebody else first. Also, it can jump start your creativity, so you’ll end up writing something unique anyway. Just make sure to cite or properly attribute anything you leave in that isn’t your own.
Especially if it is a short piece, start over. Chances are you will write it better the second time. I don’t know how many times I meticulously drafted an essay, or even a sentence, just to delete the entire thing and write it again better. Don’t be afraid to start over. Besides, you can just save the original and go back to it if you need to.
No matter how talented a writer you may be, words do not come out in beautiful lines of brilliant prose. All the best writing begins as a jumble of letters, thoughts, images, and ideas that are formed (with great effort) into coherence. Don’t be afraid of the process. You will be surprised to find how much better your writing is overall.