Natalie Goldberg says in her craft book, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within,
It is important to have a way worked out to begin your writing; otherwise, washing the dishes becomes the most important thing on Earth — anything that will divert you from writing. Finally, one just has to shut up, sit down, and write.
Getting started in your writing can often be the hardest part.
It’s so much fun to dream about what we’re going to write for the day. You wake up and lay in bed dreaming about that new story you’re going to cook up at your writing desk, or the next chapter in that long novel you’re working on, or even a new Medium piece about something you’re interested in.
You want to write it, whatever it may be. You’re excited to write it.
But thinking about your writing session and actually doing it are two completely different things. Yes, it’s fun to dream up new ideas and characters and things we want to put down on the page. However, at some point, if you want to be a successful writer, you have to sit down and do the work. Not just starting it day after day, but finishing it, too.
I’ve written almost two dozen novels, and yet still one of the hardest things to do to this day is to just get started. Especially when you’re staring at a blank page, whether it’s page one of something brand new or page 301 on the draft of the novel you’ve been working on for months, getting started can often be tortuous.
It’s scary to face that blank page and put new words down. You doubt yourself. You don’t trust you’ll get the scene right. You think you might screw up the whole thing, and the world will know how you don’t have any talent, that you’re a phony, a fraud, a lousy writer.
You have to get those voices out of your head and do the work anyway.
Those inner voices that say how much you suck are not helpful, particularly when you decide to find anything else to do besides write. My belief is that you’re only a lousy writer if you’re not writing. It doesn’t matter if what you write today does actually suck because you know what?
Any words on the page today means you can change those words tomorrow. You can take a mediocre scene and over the course of many revisions make it soar, make it great. I can’t tell you how many pieces of fiction I’ve written that were dreadful in that first draft, but with a lot of hard work, determination, and discipline, I was able to make them so much better.
You have to get started, it’s one of the most important things you can do as a writer. And you can start in any way that works well for you. In her book, Natalie Goldberg gives some suggestions, like the following…
Make a date with a writing friend to go over your work, thus making you have to write.
Take a writing class, which will also force you to write.
Start writing within minutes after waking up.
Allow yourself a sweet treat from the pantry if you write for one hour non-stop.
Fill an entire notebook every month.
A lot of these I’ve tried, and only some of them have worked — a writing class definitely works because your workshop date is put on the calendar and therefore you have to produce some writing or the class you’re in can’t go on — but the one that’s always worked for me, that has allowed me to write twenty-one novels in the past eleven years, is the last one Goldberg talks about in this chapter of her book.
Scheduling time to write every day is one of the main keys to success as a writer.
Yes, Goldberg talks about this strategy too, and if you have no idea how to begin your writing each day, try this one.
Many people have asked me throughout the years how I’ve managed to write so many novels, and something I always tell them is that I schedule time to write. And I stick to that schedule every day no matter what.
Scheduling time to write every day is the most helpful way to get your words down. For example, if I’m drafting a new novel, I try to maintain 2,000 new words a day. It can be a little less than that, or a hell of a lot more, but that’s the goal. And on average, if I’m focused, I can write 500 words in about thirty minutes. That makes for on average two hours of writing to reach my word count goal.
Therefore, I find the two hours a day that work best. For you, it might be the first thing in the morning. Or it might mean the afternoon, or the evening. Keep in mind the later you schedule your time to write, the more likely you will skip it when other life events and responsibilities begin to shape your day. I always recommend you do your writing earlier rather than later if you can.
But in some cases, morning might not work, and that’s OK!
I teach early in the morning five days a week, so my writing time lately has been 4pm to 6pm. That’s my time for me and my creative process, with the door shut behind me. I’ll take the dogs out and make dinner after I’m done. And I need an hour when I get home from teaching to decompress.
But when it’s time to write — I get started almost exactly at 4pm, and I don’t stop until either 6pm arrives or I’ve reached my desired word count. It’s crucial that I do the work because If I skip a day, and then skip another day, before I know it I will have gone a few weeks without any writing at all, and I’ll lose the momentum of whatever current project I’m working on.
So try scheduling time to write every day and stick to it however you can — that’s always my recommendation to writers trying to find a way to write more words, who might struggle to begin a new session.
If you treat writing like a part-time job and know you have to write during a specific block of time, then you’ll get it done, the same way we clock in at our regular jobs and begin working. You have to think of writing the same way.
Whichever method works best for you, beginning your writing is always a crucial first step to producing good work and finding lots more success in your creative life!