I hear from many people about how they wish they could write. It’s a declaration that always mystifies me. For me, I have a compulsion to. Even if nobody paid me to do it, I would still be there in front of that keyboard. For me, writing is playtime. So what makes you think that you cannot enjoy it too?
With time on your hands because of the current world events, isn’t now the time for us all to dust off those things we wished we could become proficient at? Whether it’s because we aspire to have a fresh career and get paid or simply because we want to?
It could be writing, drawing, photography, making cuddly owls (yep I know a cuddly owl stuffer), sheep squeezing (don’t ask) or any other creative passion, you owe it to yourself to do it.
So Here Goes.
Scared of writing yet feel a compulsion to? Good. That’s all you need. In fact that fear and that compulsion are the best bits. The rest you can figure out.
First of all, just do it.
That didn’t help at all did it? And I agree, all too often when people say that they would love to do something, others say, “Well just do it then.” Not helping. If it’s something which is a big move out of your comfort zone, then hearing that rather condescending phrase sucks really. Whether it’s base jumping, cave diving, joining a Bhuddist retreat.
So here’s my notes on how I think I can help you if you have that little voice inside your head telling you that you should write. Starting with the reasons not to that I hear the most.
I don’t know what I would write – the fact that you are considering it means that you have something to say.
Who would want to read it? – I have no idea. You haven’t written anything yet so I don’t know what you wrote and who would read it. Not a reason.
People will laugh. – Only if you show it to them. And even them, maybe not. Who cares? You feel the need to do it.
What would I do with it? – Anything you like. In fact you don’t have to do anything at all.
I haven’t worked out a plot yet – Enough with the Plot thing. You don’t need one as you’re about to find out.
Who would buy it?– I’m sorry, who mentioned anything about money?
There’s a million and one reasons not to. The fact that you are still reading, are still here at all, means that you want to. That is enough.
Ready to start?
First off, you don’t need permission from anyone. Don’t wait for someone to tell you that it’s OK to set aside the time. That will never happen. In fact, if I were you I wouldn’t even tell anyone for a while. Our secret, OK? And if you feel you need someone’s permission, I just gave it to you. There, that’s that one out of the way.
What should I write? I don’t know, this was your idea. You’re the one that came here asking if it was OK to write.
You can write anything you like. Just be You.
So write something. Anything. It doesn’t matter. One thing I guarantee is that it will be utter crap. But who cares, you weren’t planning on showing it to anyone anyway, remember?
Trust me, I’ve written some pretty crappy first drafts in my time. It doesn’t matter, nobody sees your first draft anyway. But you have to do it because you can’t edit an empty page. So make a start.
When should I write? Whenever that lightbulb comes on inside your head. I’m beginning writing this article for you at 07:30 in the morning. It’s an idea I had for a while and today it formed a coherent thought.
So I am writing it.
You can write fiction, non fiction, poetry. Anything that comes out of your head that planted itself there. Because if you’re feeling that compulsion, then that’s what will have happened. It will have landed in your head and it’s sitting there waiting for you.
Waiting to see if you notice. If you don’t notice, or if you notice and yet don’t give it the attention it is seeking, then it will be gone.
So seize the moment. If that occurs at a really bad time, then simply grab something and write down that thought. It’s really, really important. You know how you’re doing something else and that thought happens and you brush it aside and think, Yeah, I will do that later.? Too late. That thought has moved on. Chances are that someone else got the benefit of it.
So wherever you are, grab it. Whether you’re in a shopping queue, mowing the lawn, driving along, making love. Whatever. Yes I know, that last one is going to be a little difficult to take a pause and explain later, but hey, that’s how it is. Maybe I will excuse you that one.
It’s OK to be scared of a blank page. I used to be.
To this day, when I sit down to write I don’t actually know what is going to happen. Even when I ave a brief from a client, with a rough outline of what the editor will expect, I don’t know what I am going to say. Even here as I write this, the words are coming out and that’s simply how it is.
It used to freak me out, big style.
I used to be terrified that because I didn’t know what I was going to say, that I would get that writers block thingy. It never happened. For sure, I pause sometimes and take a short break but most of the time I just write a first draft straight off.
You can do this too.
The first few times it will be really scary. But you have the luxury of knowing that at this stage there’s no editor and deadline looming over your shoulder. You simply have to write.
And the reason why you simply have to write and it will probably be crap is because as I just said, you can’t edit a blank page. You have to put something there. So it may as well be crap.
In amongst that crap, you will identify something that makes you smile. I promise. If you have that spark inside that’s driven you to read this far, then there will be something there. If you’re reading this and wondering what on earth I am talking about, then it’s time for you to go and get in your car, take the kids to school, do some work.
We’re busy here having fun. Go away.
Those that are left, here’s why I know that it’s OK to be scared of a blank page. It’s a short-ish story but it will validate your feelings of they are the same as mine.
In my early days of automotive feature writing, I used to over think it. I would read what other writers were putting and yet, with one or two very notable exceptions, didn’t think much of it. I knew there was something else I wanted to say. But I didn’t have permission. Or I thought I didn’t.
And yet, these first few jobs I got as writer confirmed to me a couple of things. First off that I was kind of OK at it. And second, that the blank page fear actually only lasted a couple of sentences in. I had the beginnings of an idea, I didn’t know what I was going to write, yet it always turned out fine.
So that’s one reason why you have permission to be scared of a blank page.
The other reason is that everyone else scared is too. Even some of the superstars of writing don’t know what’s going to happen. And thats the magical bit. Here’s my top three in chronological order of discovery by me.
Jeffrey Archer. He’s a former Member of the UK Parliament with a questionable past. Well, actually not questionable at all. He spent a while in a UK prison, so that answers that one. However he is also a very successful fiction writer. I saw an interview some time ago with him and the usual questions came out about how he did it. He said that each morning, he opened up his laptop and he didn’t know what was going to happen. And that it used to worry him but as time passed he grew to realise that it was actually his friend. He still felt anticipation, but no longer trepidation.
Secondly, Elizabeth Gilbert. Her book Big Magic explains this whole thing in kind of mystical terms. She takes you on a journey of stories living in the ether looking for someone to tell them. Whether you agree with Elizabeths theories or not (and actually I do – freaky right?) then the ethos is the same., She also doesn’t know what is going to happen.
Thirdly, get a hold of a book, Stephen King – On Writing. I’d never read a Stephen King book up to that point. Horror is not my thing, so I had never read anything he wrote. This book is Stephen King’s thoughts on writing, his ‘workshop manual’ almost. I can’t recall what on earth made me download this as an ebook, but as I read it I actually laughed out loud.
My thoughts were. “Wow that’s me too.”
The same thing. He never knows what is going to come out. He describes himself as an archeologist uncovering stories as if they were dinosaur bones at a dig. The story is already there, it’s up to him to be as careful as possible at uncovering it and extracting carefully as much of it as he can.
So there. Three people, all very very successful writers, some millionaires in fact, who start off with a blank page.
And no plot.
So stop it with the plot thing.
If you’re waiting to write because you’re waiting to get a plot together then forget it. You’re over thinking it. None of the people above use a plot. Neither do I.
I cannot understand how I could do it. Having a plot spoils the fun in my view. I simply could not outline a plot without screwing up the story,. In fact, I couldn’t write a plot, full stop.
My theory is the same as Stephen’s – yes these days I’ve read that book so much that we are best mates in my head – The theory is that if I am enjoying myself so much getting the words out onto the page, then the reader will absolutely love it. After all, I am enjoying it and I am supposed to be the guy who knows what’s coming next. So a reader should love it at just as much
So if you’re still here, then that means that we feel the same way. We can talk this through and get you writing, OK?
So get started. You need a little tool kit. Don’t worry, I’m not talking a huge investment in the Snap On Tool Chest of writing hardware. Just a couple of little things.
A way to capture stuff wherever you are. Evernote is a good tool. Because most times you will have your phone or iPad or some device not too far away. And it’s free for the most part. I live my life in Evernote up to a point. When you capture that thought in the little app, it then spreads it out to every other device that you have it installed on. So when you open up your laptop that though is right there., ready for you to expand upon it.
A notebook. Yes, you can buy any old cheap notebook for less that a pound in any store. But the thoughts and ideas you’re going to capture in it are precious so they kind of deserve a nice place to live. For some time I used Moleskine notebooks and have recently switched to Lechturn1917 due to the slightly wider page width. Personal preference, either will work. I also started using the pages with the dotted grid, rather than ruled lines or blank page. It’s a useful compromise between the rigidity of a ruled book and the blank page.
A pen. Again any pen will do however I do like a nice Lamy Safari rollerball. They’re not too expensive and you can get refills for them so you’re not constantly throwing away pens.
And an emergency device for those times when you don’t have those to hand. For me this is as simple as a sheet of A4 paper, folded into four and slipped into my pocket. It forms a surface stiff enough to write on in the palm of your hand and makes a few reversible pages to capture that little thought in for later. If you have to, steal someone else’s pen.
All else fails, then a paper napkin with a few words on it. It’s that simple yet that important. Read Stephen’s book. One of his best sellers that became a movie started out in a napkin.
A laptop or a PC, whatever. Yep, you’re going to need that. Most people have one, though I know a large slice of the population don’t. You can write longhand and indeed I do that, hence the notebooks for journaling. But when it comes to hitting your word count target or getting those words out when you are in mid flow, for me I need a keyboard. Because when it’s flowing, I simply cannot write on paper fast enough to keep up with what want to come out of my head. So my buffer fills up and I find it frustrating.
If you don’t have a couple of grand lying around to spring yourself a new MacBook Air, then don’t worry. See what you have lying around. And you can get some pretty good used ones on eBay. I’m not a big writer on a tablet such as an iPad. I find them better devices for consuming rather than creating, however you may find that it works just fine for you.
What else do you need to start writing? Well, to be honest that’s about it. I gave you permission at the beginning, remember. I also told you not to tell anyone. Our secret, OK? You can tell them later, when you’ve overcome the initial fear. Why not tell them now? Because chances are they won’t get it. Or they will say something like, “Hey get you, Hemmingway.”
Right now you don’t need to hear that. It’s the kind of dumb comment that makes you retreat back behind your Netflix comfort blanket.
The final thing you need is a place. I once read somewhere that women need a reason to make love, men just need a place. I remember it now, the film When Harry Met Sally. I disagree but that’s another blog article entirely.
For writing, you definitely don’t need a reason. You’re still reading here, therefore the reason is in there somewhere. But you do need a place. And a time.
My man Stephen says to lock yourself away, mobile to flight mode, shutters down and write. He plays hard rock music, AC DC stuff because it acts as another filter to block things out.
That doesn’t work for me. I need a window to look out of, ideally sitting in a low chair or at a standing desk with the window directly ahead of me. I hardly every look up when I am in mid flow, but I like to have that there.
Your mileage may vary as they say in those generic road test reviews. They’re those reviews that are crap, the ones that you must promise me you will not write.
As for the time, we are all different. Our body clocks are set to different rates, some of us are morning people, some are night owls. There’s a cool book on the subject, if you’re interested, that examines the whole issue of quality sleep and Circadian rhythms. So choose your time.
I work at my best in the early morning, which fits well with my client work. I can start at around 6:00am in summer time, a little after that in winter. That gives me a couple of hours of play time before my phone starts to activate and WhatsApp messages start competing for my attention.
You may be like me or you may find that evenings are better. Whatever works for you, then do it. Don’t try and force it by waking up before the sunrise if you’re a night owl. If you’re one of those people that has to warm up like a lizard in the sun, then mornings aren’t for you. Vice versa. I cannot write on an evening. That’s my ‘input time’.
That’s when I read.
Which brings me kind of neatly to the next article in a series that I hadn’t planned when I started this.
If you want to be a better writer, start reading.
Wow, I never saw that coming at the top of the page. Seriously.