How I Write: Getting started
Welcome to our new blog strand, How I Write, your monthly dose of inspiration on a variety of writing topics. This month, we've gone right back to the beginning with some tips from two writers to help you get started. If you've got a topic you'd like us to cover, send it our way.
Em Strang: The early morning writer
I'm an early morning writer. I need to show up at the page before I do anything else – no chores or 'To Do's' are allowed to pollute the space. If I'm stuck and can't face the blank page, these are two options that I find work for me:
Get into the groove
I put really loud music on and dance round the kitchen for maybe 20 minutes to half an hour. It has to be the right kind of music to suit the mood. For me, that's usually something with a strong, fast beat. Then when I sit down at the blank page, there's nothing in the way and the critic has been silenced. I can either begin a new piece of work or get creative with editing old stuff. Obviously, you can't put really loud music on at 6am and wake the house up, so this is for days when I've got the place to myself.
Use your bookshelves for inspiration
I go to the bookshelf and select a book of poems. Any will do. It doesn't have to be a favourite and in fact sometimes it's better if the poems are unfamiliar to me. I open a page randomly and read a poem out loud. I keep doing this until I find one that really moves me or I come across an image that resonates for me, and then I'll sit down and write. Sometimes I 'borrow' a line and free-associate from it. I find other poets' work endlessly inspiring.
Em Strang received a New Writers Award in 2014.
Lynsey Rogers: The evening writer
In contrast to Em, I am definitely not an early morning writer! I like to have my working day done before I dedicate some time to writing. I think it’s really important to be brutally honest with yourself about when you write best. I spent a long time forcing myself to write in the morning and I soon realised that writing barely coherent sentences at 6am really didn't work for me. Here are two methods I use regularly to get started:
Store ideas during the day
Just because I prefer to write in the evenings, that doesn’t mean I’m not thinking about my writing during the day. In fact, leaving an idea bubbling away in the back of my mind gives it time to develop and I often find I’ve subconsciously worked out a plot or character problem which prevented me from writing. If I’m starting something totally new, I store 'overheard' things from the daytime to use later. This could be a snippet of conversation on the bus, a news story on the radio or just a good theme or word which has cropped up. It’s a bit of a tired tip, but always have a notebook with you to scribble down these ideas. Even if you don’t use them immediately, you’ll have a handy bank of ideas to give you a head start when inspiration is running dry.
Summarise in a sentence
Freewriting can be very useful and it’s a method I regularly use, but sometimes even that just doesn't work. I find that some quick, careful planning can take the misery out of starting and give me the motivation to sit down in front of the computer after dinner. I’m not talking about detailed plot diagrams, character sketches or chapter outlines. Rather, a single sentence which summarises what I'm going to write, whether it’s a short story, a chapter from a novel or a poem. This way, I’ve got a starting point and a vague idea of where my words will go, which usually takes the ice cold fear out my heart!
Lynsey Rogers is the Writer Development Online Content Administrator for Scottish Book Trust.
For more writing advice, take a look at Miss Write's archives.