Blank pages and screens are daunting. No matter how much planning you’ve done in your head (or lack thereof), or even outlining/pre-writing/storyboarding/crayon-drawing in preparation, starting off on your newest writing project is scary. Yes, scary. Every insecurity you’ve ever had can flutter through your mind before you even get out the first word. Or you might be able to dive in, get in a page or two (or sentence or two), and become paralyzed by crippling self-doubt. This happens, to almost every writer and creative person out there. Those who say they don’t experience have likely found a way to circumvent these issues and/or push through them very quickly so they can just get on with a project — or they’re lying.
The basic line is: JUST DO IT. Which leads to the inevitable question: BUT HOW?!?
Starting on a project is a very individualized task. There’s never going to be a one-size-fits-all method because creative people work in different ways and respond to motivational techniques, inspirational ideas, prodding, praising, bribing, manipulation, and such things differently (and yes, these are all ways to get yourself started on a project). However, here’s some tips from me on getting over the fear of starting that new project:
Not sure what to write? Here’s a few links to get you in the idea-generating mood. Honestly, sometimes you just have to start on something. Anything. The weather. Some annoying person at school/work. Puppies. The methodology behind why hot dogs come in packages of ten and hot dog buns come in packages of eight. Rita Hayworth. Vikings. The ‘Cups’ song. The possibilities are endless. Don’t concern yourself with being original or derivative, or if your characters have enough backstory yet, or if any of this even makes sense at all. Pick a topic and dive in, because you never know what could come out of it. At the very least you’re honing your writing skills.
Have a topic/story/novel/play/whatever idea already brewing and just don’t know when/where/how to begin?
Put the project in your calendar to start on a specific date. Work it into your writing schedule. (Don’t have one yet? Make one. Now.) Treating the new project like an appointment may take some of the initial ‘joy’ out of starting something fresh, but it does create a sense of responsibility and commitment to the project. (It can also give you a bit of time to flake off and do other things, knowing that deadline approaches where you have to start.)
Afraid you’ll miss that starting deadline? Set up a writing date — either online or in person. Making yourself accountable to someone else for getting started on a project can be a great motivator. (This is also true when working on a project and needing to focus.) Get together, talk a bit about what each of you is working on, set an initial timer (15-20 minutes is a good length to start with), and just go. Work in sprints for a couple hours together, taking breaks to stretch, get drinks, etc. Knowing the person across from you, whether face to face or over the screen, is devoting time and energy to their work as you are to yours helps you feel not quite so isolated in taking the first steps.
(As a note, I am always up for a writing date with someone, so feel free to drop us a line if you want to set up a writing date with O.)
Once you’ve prepped, set the date, and are ready to start, that first sentence or two can intimidate you. Don’t let it. How? Remember that you’re just starting. This is just a draft. For just a moment, ignore all the planning and how you’ve set it up in your head, and just put down a few sentences.
Don’t worry about starting from ‘the beginning,’ either. If you know there’s a cool scene halfway through the story and you want to start there, go for it. Don’t feel you need to start from sentence one, or that starting from that first sentence means it has to be perfect. You don’t, and it doesn’t — this is just a draft. Keep that mentality as much as possible through the whole project: THIS IS JUST A DRAFT. It doesn’t matter if it gets wonky in the middle, or the opening seems weak, or the ending doesn’t make sense. All those things can get fixed in editing. All of them.
This is just a draft.
Also, peruse our recent article on first sentences if you’re really committed to your first words put down being awesome from the get go.
But really, just dive in and remember: Nothing has to be perfect yet. It doesn’t even have to be good. It just has to BE.