For many writers, starting is the hardest part.
You know you have to do it. You might even feel motivated to do it. And once you actually get started, it’s easy to get it done.
But you just. Can’t. Start. You can’t get into it. Those first few hundred words feel like torture.
After many years of writing when I didn’t want to (writing is fun, but sometimes, you just want to lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling), I’ve figured out a strategy that almost always works for me. I’m hoping it might help you, too.
Here’s what you can do.
Sit down. Open your draft. Set a goal of writing 500 words before your butt leaves your chair. And start slowly inching toward that goal.
Here’s what often happens.
You write 100 words. It feels like it’s been four hours and you’ve written 100 pages and you really, really just want to quit. But you keep writing.
You hit 250 words. You don’t feel much better, and you’re probably still having a hard time focusing. But you figure, maybe I can keep going. I can write 250 more, probably. Maybe then I’ll take a break.
And then you hit 500.
And you think, wow. I wrote 500 words. That wasn’t so hard. I’m really glad I did that.
And then: I wonder if I could write 500 more.
Over the next 500 words you find it a lot easier to focus. Time doesn’t drag on quite as slowly. You start to find your piece’s rhythm. You start flying through your prose. You might even start getting a little excited about what the end product might look like.
1,000 words. You’re either almost done or you’re just excited to have hit 1,000. Sometimes you run over 1K without even realizing it and you just keep going. Because now, you’ve crashed through all your hurdles and this whole writing thing is sort of fun again, kind of.
Maybe for you, for a shorter piece like a blog post or news brief, your magic number is 5o or 200 words, or 300, 350. But whenever you hit that number, your whole perspective shifts. Your brain just sort of locks onto whatever you’re working on, and it actually becomes extremely difficult to pull away once you really get deep into it.
I love this feeling, this phenomenon, whatever it is. It has helped me recover from the worst of my procrastination (you know, at that point where if you do not start writing RIGHT NOW, you are going to be late). It’s helped me Do The Things when I’m not feeling up to it. It makes the big projects seem a lot less scary and time-consuming. Maybe it will help you, too.
Do you have a magic number? Maybe for you it’s not a number of words to be reached, but a time limit — you have to write for 20 minutes before time becomes irrelevant and you have to forcefully tear your fingers away from your keyboard to stop. If it’s not a number of words or time limit, is there some other way you push yourself to start/finish something with or without any external motivation?
Enjoy your writing endeavors this week! Best of luck in all your projects, whether they exist yet or not!
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.