Thursday, March 12, 2020

Taking the First Step Toward Your Writing—Every Day

By Shanna Swendson, @ShannaSwendson

Part of The Writer’s Life Series 

JH: Some days, it's just hard to get started when we sit down to write. Shanna Swendson share tips on taking that first step and keeping your writing momentum going. 

Shanna Swendson earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas but decided it was more fun to make up the people she wrote about and became a novelist. She’s written a number of fantasy novels for teens and adults, including the Enchanted, Inc. series and the Rebel Mechanics series. She devotes her spare time to reading, knitting, and music.

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Take it away Shanna…

Sometimes it seems as though taking the first step is the most difficult part of any journey—and if you’re doing something that requires consistent daily effort, you have to take that first step every day. Writing is no exception. In fact, the very first step may be one of the easiest, since you’re starting a new project with great enthusiasm. It’s more difficult to take the first daily step on day twelve, or day thirty, or day sixty.

Here are some tricks to making that first daily step a little easier.

If you’re trying to get in the habit of going to the gym or running every morning, you can make the first step easier by putting your exercise clothes right next to your bed so that it’s easy to get dressed right away, and then once you’re wearing exercise clothes you might as well exercise.

You can do something similar with writing. Not necessarily putting on your writing clothes (though if that helps you get in the right mindset, it might be worth trying), but by making it as easy as possible to sit down and write.

(Here's more on The Daily Mindset Practice That Will Help You Achieve Your Writing Goals)

Have your writing space set up and ready to go with your notes handy so that you don’t waste valuable writing time or get sidetracked looking for things. Be aware of your procrastination methods and take steps to counter them. For instance, you can turn off your computer’s wi-fi ahead of time so you aren’t tempted to check mail or social media or do anything else that might help you put off jumping in and getting to work.

Your setting can have a big impact, so having a place you associate with writing helps your brain get into the right mode for work. Little rituals can also help establish a pattern that tells you it’s time to start writing—make a cup of tea, put on your writing music, sit at your desk, and it’s writing time.

One of the biggest obstacles to getting started each day is not knowing what to write next. I find that it’s a big help to plan my next day’s writing at the end of the previous day’s writing session. When I’m done writing for the day, I immediately plan what happens next and outline that scene. That gives me a chance to visualize the scene as I go about the rest of my day, fall asleep at night, and go about my morning routine. By the time of the next writing session, I have a clear sense of what happens next and maybe even some lines of narration and dialogue, which makes it much easier to start writing.

Along those lines, it can help to end a writing session on a cliffhanger. We tend to stop at an obvious ending point, like at the end of a scene, but a cliffhanger can hook writers as much as it does readers. However, a writer’s cliffhanger isn’t the same as a reader’s. Your chapter-ending hook might keep a reader turning pages, but the writer may not actually know what happens next at the end of a chapter.

(Here's more on Writers: How to Ditch Distraction and Focus)

A writer should stop when you know what happens next. End in the middle of a sentence when the ending of the sentence is fairly obvious. Then when you start your next writing session, you already know the first thing you need to write. You finish that sentence, and that gives you a start.

I generally find that the first few words are the hardest, so anything that makes it easier to get the first few words is a big help. If you’re afraid you won’t remember how to finish the thing you left hanging, write it down, then at the start of your next session, type it into your file. If you write by hand, use a different piece of paper and start your session by copying it into your manuscript. Copying over your pre-written work feels like new writing and gets the flow going.

It may help to do a quick re-read and edit of the previous day’s work as a way of building momentum toward the new working day. This gets your mind back into the story, and doing some editing feels like writing, so when you get to the end of your previous day’s work, it’s easy to just keep going and write more.

You can also start a writing session with some brainstorming as a way of getting in the right frame of mind. Think about the scene you’re going to write and outline it or list key details you want to convey. This is especially good if you’re having to transition from some other activity to writing. It might be difficult to come home after a busy day at work and get to work on your novel, but taking some time to sit and think might make for an easier transition. After thinking for a while, you can start writing. You may need to set a timer, though, to make sure you do start writing instead of just thinking.

(Here's more on How to Make Writing a Habit)

The good news is that once you start writing consistently, it becomes a habit and therefore becomes more automatic. If you establish that you write every day at a certain time or under certain circumstances, you’ll find that it becomes easier to keep doing it. Just make yourself sit down with your writing on a consistent basis for about a month and it will start feeling like a habit. That doesn’t mean it will always be easy to start writing every day. There will still be days when it’s more challenging, when there are other things you want to do, but I find that once I actually start writing, the reluctance goes away. It’s that first step that’s the tricky one.

Do you have any tricks to get your writing day started?

About Make Mine Magic

A frothy, romantic adventure with a hint of old New York glamour and a dash of magic.

Jilted at the altar, small-town librarian Claire is forced to go on her romantic honeymoon in New York City alone. After enduring one too many meals for two as one, Claire invites a seemingly harmless little old lady to join her for afternoon tea at the Plaza. Unbeknownst to Claire, said little old lady is actually a grand wizard, who bestows Claire with a magical amulet that makes her the sitting queen of the magical community. Claire is swept into the gilded world of New York City wizards - and a bitter power struggle for the throne. With the help of a cursed former prince, Claire must untangle this web of deception and find the magical community's rightful leader before her "honeymoon" is over.

1 comment:

  1. I love this especially A writer should stop when you know what happens next. Thank you for this.