This is a guest post by Ali Luke.
Ever sat for ages staring at a blank screen? Ever had an idea that got stuck in your head and wouldn’t turn into words? Yeah, me too.
Writing isn’t always easy. Sure, sometimes the words seem to flow effortlessly – but often, there’s a huge gap between inspiration and actually getting something written.
Here’s how to jump that gap:
Don’t Let Excuses Stop You
Talk to any experienced writer, and they’ll tell you that they often feel a bit reluctant to sit down and write. Getting started on a new piece, or picking up a big project to dive back in, is always a little daunting.
You’ll have experienced exactly the same thing in other areas of your life. For me, it’s exercise. Sometimes I really look forwards to jumping on my cross trainer at 5pm, but other times, I start making excuses. I’m kinda tired today. I think I maybe have a cold coming. I really should clear my inbox…
What I’ve realised, though, is that once I get going, I’ll enjoy it. I tell myself that I’ll just do five minutes – and if I’m really not in the mood, I can stop.
Do the same with your writing: accept those feelings of reluctance, and promise yourself that you can stop after a few minutes if you’re really struggling. Once you get going, that inertia usually vanishes.
Photo of Ali Luke by Antonina Mamzenko
Get Your Ideas Down on Paper
When you’re trying to hold everything in your head, it’s hard to write – you’re worried about forgetting that great idea that you want to work in towards the end of the piece.
So write before you write. Jot down all your ideas, either on paper, or by typing them into a document. Here’s a screenshot of this post in process, just after I wrote this sentence:
You’ll find that as you get your ideas out of your head and into a physical form, you’ll form new ones and make connections between them.
If this stage feels challenging, remember: you don’t have to actually write your piece straight away. You can just get all the ideas out and come back to them later.
Don’t Start at the Beginning
If you’re stuck on the “thinking” stage, you might be trying to dream up the perfect opening line for your piece. Often, it’s not a good idea to start at the beginning. Introductions to articles and books, and killer first chapters for novels may well come after you’ve written the rest of the material.
Glance back at the screenshot above, of this post in progress. You’ll see that the introduction wasn’t written first: I jumped in at “Get Your Ideas Down on Paper”.
So – where do you start? You could try:
- The first major section
- Whichever part grabs you the most
- A section which you know will be easy (to get you in gently)
- The hardest part (so it’s all downhill from there)
There’s no right or wrong way – just a way which works for you.
Explore As You Write
Another reason we get stuck thinking instead of writing is because we’re not totally sure what we want to say. Perhaps you’re going round in circles in your head, trying to work out which side of an argument you’re going to support, or how you’re going to explain a tricky concept to your readers.
It’s often in the act of writing itself that we discover something new. Perhaps you talk yourself into a point of view which you didn’t realise you held – or you come up with a new insight. You won’t get to that point just by thinking.
So long as you’re willing to edit, there’s no problem at all with writing-as-exploration: if you go on a tangent, or end up changing your mind, you can simply delete part of your piece.
You’ll notice from the screenshot that I altered subheadings (and switched two sections around) after outlining the post, once I started refining what I wanted to say.
Spend Time Warming Up
This isn’t necessary for everyone, but some writers find it really helpful.
Take ten minutes to write something as a warm up. You could pick a writing prompt (like an image, phrase or question) to get you going – or you can simply write in a stream-of-consciousness style about what’s on your mind.
Getting your fingers moving and your thoughts flowing onto the paper can make it much easier to start off on your “real” writing.
Writing isn’t always easy – and that’s totally normal. We all struggle at times; the key is to find an easy way into your piece, without getting caught up in a whirl of thoughts.
What helps you to get out of your head and get on with your writing?
Ali Luke makes a living by taking ideas out of her head and putting them into words. She writes about writing and the writing life at Aliventures, and also offers one-to-one support as a writing coach.