(Note: I feel a bit silly placing a Copyright notice on this article because, as a professional writer I know that Copyright is in place from the minute I create a work and does not necessarily require the symbol. Copyright ownership rests with the creator of content. That’s part of the TofS of this site. Professionals respect Copyright, but thieves do not. Since Zurza stole one of my posts on this blog, I want to make it a little tedious for him/her or anyone inclined to steal others’ work to have to check every line to see if something needs to be removed before they scrape it and post it their sites. If nothing else, they might learn something about how to write so they can do it themselves without stealing words from others.)
HOW TO BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING
by Joan Reeves©2008
You may think this title is nonsensical, but I see a lot of writers who don’t know how to start writing. They want to write. They really do, but somehow they just can’t seem to get started.
Those of you writing novels may be like the frustrated writer played by Billy Crystal in Throw Momma From The Train. He’s sitting in front of a typewriter and has typed: The night was…. After those three words, he’s stalled and stares blankly at the piece of paper.
He types hot. No, that’s not it. He types humid. No. That’s not right. He ends up with a wastebasket full of paper wads and a massive case of writer’s block. Later, when the mother in the movie rasps, The night was sultry, is it any wonder he agrees to kill her?
Perhaps you’re writing a novel or articles, blogs, whatever, and you too find yourself dithering about, unable to get started, unable to find an entrance into the subject matter.
This is what I call stalled brain, a condition that occurs because your brain isn’t warmed up and ready to race.
If you have a car parked in a garage and it’s 20 degrees outside, chances are you sit in the car with the motor idling after you’ve started it. You wait a few minutes, warming up the engine before you put it into gear and drive away.
When writing, if you’re having difficulty getting started or if you start and stall out immediately, maybe you didn’t warm up your brain sufficiently.
Try these brain-warming exercises to get the thoughts flowing and to turn off the internal critic or editor. These work whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, short or long. The only caveat: these exercises actually work better using pen and paper than the computer, but you can try them on the computer if you like.
Write a word in the center of a page. Select a word that has something to do with the subject or theme about which you intend to write.
Draw a circle around the word then lines from the center like spokes on a wheel. At the end of each spoke, write the first word that pops into your head. Write as many words clustered around that center as you can.
Look at the cluster. What do all the words you wrote have in common? Are there some words that resonate with you? In what direction do the words lead your thoughts? Compose a sentence and write it down immediately.
In most cases, this sentence is a doorway, a lead-in, to what you want to write and will enable you to keep writing because the brain has been stimulated in that direction. The words will flow. Get the words down without stopping. Don’t give the internal editor a chance to intrude. Go back later and edit.
What are you wanting to write about? Make a list about it. Take your subject and list the first 10 thoughts that pop into your brain. Or list 10 things about some aspect of the subject that really interests you. If the subject is music, you might list 10 thoughts about it that might vary from the first song you learned as a kid to the concert you went to last night. Or maybe a list of groups you like, songs you like, songs about heartbreak, music in the movies, or scandals associated with music, etc.
Don’t try to legislate your thoughts, just let them flow and list them. Don’t even try to confine the list to a certain number. Just list, but the goal is to list as many things as possible because the more you write down, the greater the mental flow. Don’t try to prioritize the list either. The goal is to list as many things as possible as quickly as possible.
Describe something with words, and the description doesn’t have to relate to your subject at all. Perhaps you’ll write a paragraph describing your ideal reader, this is a mental creation of the person who finds what you write interesting to read. Is your ideal reader someone who looks like your mom or your spouse or your best friend or your high school English teacher?
The act of writing a description puts the brain to work in the process of putting words together to create an articulated vision. That’s what writing is all about. Write it for practice and it’s easy to just continue writing on your project.
These brain-warming techniques work because they assign your brain the task of producing words and giving those words form. Without over-thinking it, you find yourself working with words instead of agonizing over how to craft the perfect sentence. From free-flowing thoughts come written words resulting in paragraphs, pages, and books.
This is an excellent article Joan.
I especially like the cluster method. When I first started online several years ago I didn’t know what to write and a friend of mine gave me a similar technique – and funny enough he called it the wheel.
Now I typically have no problem at all writing but when I do I always go back to the wheel or cluster as you call it.
Keep up the great info
I hate content thieves and what I would love to do with them shouldn’t be stated in polite company.
Back to the subject of this post now…
I am a Bloglines user and I often clip posts that are interesting and type a line or 2 of whatever thought I have in my head about it and I publish the clips to my Bloglines mini-blog. That way when I am looking for something interesting to write about, I have some place to begin and someone to link to, to credit and thank for the ideas.
I try to keep all my mini-blog clippings timeless, so it won’t matter if I write about a subject next week, or even next year.
It’s a fantastic way to get over a block when you want to write about “something” but you don’t even know what or where to begin. It at least gives you a starting place, bringing back the memory of some older thoughts you may have had when reading something in your feed collection.
And sometimes when browsing the collection, you’ll find a bunch of related things that fit together and the post just seems to write itself. That’s pretty great when you go from “I have no clue what to write about” to “effortlessly written article” just from browsing through your clippings.
Now I am not suggesting everyone become a Bloglines user, but you should have some way to do something like this, even if it’s just a text file with the title of the post, url, and a sentence or 2 of your own thoughts about the subject. The point is to make a collection of ideas somewhere, that you can draw on when the need arises.
The Net is a slippery slope for all artists who count on their creativity earning them income. I know several authors who have had the contents of their published books scanned and uploaded to sites. How can they get paid for a book when anyone can steal it by downloading for free?
The same thing that happened to musicians with millions downloading their work with no payment to the musician, singer, etc. is beginning to happen to writers. Federal law enforcement and prosecutors brought about some change in this area.
So far I don’t see anyone supporting the writers other than the professional organizations we belong to. And that’s for book-length writers. Our pro organizations try to get the site to take down the stolen material. I don’t see this happening for freelance writers or bloggers at all unless they’re connected with a site that prosecutes plagiarists.
A notice posted on a site isn’t going to prevent someone from stealing your content. It’s just too easy for them to do with no risk of consequence. Sorry. This is probably a post for another time.
Anonymous, glad the post helped.
I have found this post while searching google and I am glad I found it.
Unfortunately they can find you there and do the same thing. All it takes is the RSS feed. But, there’s always the chance they won’t. The ‘net is rough at times. I run a show blog for Bones called Obsessed with Bones and I see people take some of my information word for word and post them elsewhere in reference to news items. It’s incredibly frustrating.
I hope you find a resolution. You alone should have control over your work.
Wendy, I don’t know. I do know this has only happened with my Performancing blog. I complained to Performancing as well as Zurza, Zurza’s host, have blogged about it, and have sent letters to the search engines about Zurza. NO response from anyone. How disheartening. The DMCA has no teeth and no respect even from people that should respect it.
I’m seriously thinking about canceling my Performancing blog. You can catch me at Sling Words if I do.
Where can i find parts 1 and 2?
Is Zurza completely automated? They’ve already got this post up, warning paragraph and all. It looks almost like blogdig, where I syndicate my Bones blog. The difference being that you choose to be included there, vs the unwilling hijack and seeming inability to opt-out at Zurza.