In her book Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg says,
Making a list is good. It makes you start noticing material for writing in your daily life, and your writing comes out of a relationship with your life and its texture. […] [The list] helps to activate your writing quickly and cut through resistance. Naturally, once you begin writing you might be surprised where your mind takes the topic. That’s good. You are not trying to control your writing. You are stepping out of the way.
One of the scariest things for a writer is the blank page.
It doesn’t matter how experienced you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting your very first short story or you’re James Patterson. Every new writing project begins with the blank page. The cursor blinks. Your fingers hover over the keyboard. You’re going to have to craft your latest work one word at a time just like everyone else.
And if one of the scariest things for a writer is the blank page, something even scarier is having no idea what to put on that page. Yes, some days we all stare a little too long at the computer screen no matter how prepared we are, no matter how confident we may be about what to write for the day.
But for the most part, when we sit down at our writing desk knowing what we’re going to tackle, there’s always more success than when we sit down just wanting to write. That’s a terrific quality to have, you want to want to write, but often that passion isn’t enough.
So what can help keep you on track as a writer and find more success?
A notebook, of course. Filled with topics, ideas, random thoughts, questions. A place you can go to peruse things you might be interested in writing about and for whatever reason you haven’t gotten to yet.
It doesn’t matter what kind of writing you do. If you’re a fiction writer, a list of topics and ideas help guide you toward great stories — often two great stories blended together to create a work of art only you can produce. If you’re a poetry writer, those topics and ideas can bring to mind powerful images that can result in one stunning poem after another. If you’re a non-fiction writer, you’ll find inspiration from your topics and ideas to explore some territory you might not have ever thought of before.
And better yet, if you just want to do some writing today, not for anyone else but yourself, one simple topic or idea can offer even the smallest nugget to guide you on your daily writing journey as you continue growing in your craft.
In her book, Goldberg gives the reader a series of prompts to get the imagination soaring, like the following…
- Begin with ‘I Remember.’
- Take me through your morning.
- Write about the streets of your city.
- Describe a grandparent.
- What kind of animal are you?
Some of these prompts might lead to terrific stories and poems. Some of these prompts might simply get your creative juices flowing, allowing you to write for even just five to ten minutes before you take on your larger writing project for the day.
You have to begin somewhere. And even something simple that gets you going always leads to success.
There’s nothing worse than staring at that blank page for more than a minute or two with nothing to write, nothing to say, nothing going on in your head. It’s fine to daydream here and there, sure, and there are times when I’m writing when I hit a wall and I’m stuck and I have no idea what to put next. That happens to the best of us. And that’s okay.
But what you never want to do is sit down at your writing desk without a clue as to what you’re going to write for your session. We’re all busy, and we all value our time, especially for our writing. And so you want to make every minute count. It’s why I typically plan my next week of writing every Sunday, almost always taking a couple minutes to write that schedule down so I can turn to it whenever I’d like.
But going beyond having a schedule, you want to have a notebook and preferably a dedicated section in that notebook for lists of ideas and topics for upcoming pieces. These will help you find what you want to work on, and better yet, the actual act of listing itself will often get you excited to start your next writing session.
You can’t have writing success if you don’t do the writing. And so one way to help you get started is to create and continually add to various lists in a notebook you set up however you’d like. Set it up in a way that feels comfortable to you, but have something. And turn to it often.
Lots of things help you have a good writing day, and making lists will always be one of them. So get thinking. Get writing. And the success will come.