On Starting

May 6, 2019

It's hard to start writing a new project. From doubts about your skill to doubts about your concept, we all have concerns when undertaking a new story. Some people call this fear of the blank page. 

 

The fear of the blank page can manifest itself in many ways. It’s a perfectly normal part of writing, and most writers struggle with it at some point. Perhaps you’re imagining three hundred crisp, white pages of A4 paper and thinking, there’s no way I can possibly fill all of those with anything worthwhile. Perhaps you’re thinking about the two dozen books by your favourite author that adorn the shelves of your local bookshop and telling yourself, there’s no way I can possibly be as prolific as her. Or maybe you’re trying to remember the grammar rules your old schoolteacher tried and failed to drill into you. (What was the difference between whom and who again?)

 

That, in fact, is as far as some people get. Ever.

 

They might open up a blank word document, sit there for half an hour, and maybe come up with a title. Maybe they’ll hastily tap out a quick once upon a time and then with some embarrassment promptly delete it again.

 

Okay. Good start. Showing up at your desk is half the battle. But it’s not enough on its own. You have to keep going – no matter how pointless, tedious, or painful it feels. (And now you’re wondering if your old schoolteacher would’ve approved of that Oxford comma or not, aren’t you! See. You were listening.)

 

But where to find the time?

 

I hear you. Life is hard. We’re all busy. Jobs, bills, family, kids, parents, friends, partners and more responsibilities besides. All of these require attention, and much as you might like to, you can’t disappear for a week on a creative getaway and expect your pets to understand. Well, maybe the cats would understand; they pretty much keep to themselves. But the dogs? No chance. So you’ve got to choose your moment.

 

Maybe you’ve got another hobby that you can set aside for a while, or a favourite pastime that you can spend a few less hours on. If your working week is a lemon, you’ve got to squeeze it for everything it’s worth. Maybe you can go to the gym twice a week instead of three. (And if you’re me, twice still sounds like too many times.) Maybe you skip every other movie night. Maybe you steal a few hours you might use playing video games, and spend them writing instead. Time can be stolen at the most unlikely of moments. A few more examples:

  • On your daily commute. Take a notepad, a tablet or even your mobile phone and scrawl/tap out a few lines.

  • On the toilet. As above. Make sure you clean your devices with an anti-bac wipe.

  • When the kids are asleep. Don’t put the telly on. Turn it off and knock out a couple of paragraphs/verses/lines/metaphors/double entendres before bed.

  • Get up 30/20/15 minutes early and write over breakfast. By which I do not mean scrawl letters on your cornflakes and arrange them like Scrabble tiles.

  • Write during your lunch break. You’ll look super proactive, and your boss will probably give you a raise. (Don’t tell them I said so, though, or the jig will be up.)

  • Write at work. If you have a desk job, and are seated out of eyesight of anyone important, you might be able to squeeze out a few lines between emails – as long as you’re careful where you store the documents. (Fun story: I once accidentally emailed a poem about a plastic toy dinosaur to a dozen of my colleagues AND my manager. Lesson learned. My manager tactfully said nothing. One of my co-workers likened it to lost Bowie lyrics – and that’s one of the nicest reviews I’ve ever had to date.) If you have a more active job or one without a computer, a notepad is an easy enough thing to slip into a pocket. Get a micro one with a little pen and look like you’re taking important notes all the time.

You get the drift. It’s down to you to identify these small pockets of time and make use of them where you can. If you can hash out 120 words each working day, that’s 600 hundred words before the weekend has even begun – two whole pages of a paperback book. Good job, you.

 

The most important thing to remember if that, unless you're the exception that proves the rule, you're probably not going to knock out ten thousand words on your first attempt. And I'm talking about seasoned writers and novices both. Take it slow and ease yourself in, and you might be surprised how quickly your momentum builds up once you take the pressure off yourself.

 

Good luck! 

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