How to Get Better At Starting

Are you a terrible starter?

Are you bad at starting?

If you are — if you procrastinate until the last possible second, if your favorite phrase is “I can’t wait until I finally have time to,” if you have a dozen project ideas written down but have yet to touch them — then I have good news for you.

You’re not alone. I, and many other writers, are on the same exact struggle bus.

No, we’re not even ON the struggle bus. The struggle bus is dragging us behind it as it speeds down the busy highway of Never Ending Somedays.

Starting is hard. For one thing, you have this (hopefully) great idea. You have a picture in your head of exactly how you want it to turn out. You’re SOOOO EXCITED to show people the finished product.

Except once you start … you actually have to write. You know, like … do the work.

And it might not turn out exactly how you planned.

And you worry that you won’t ever be able to finish it.

For another, we tend to fall into this trap of saying we’re going to do something and then not doing it … because saying we have plans sort of makes us feel like we’ve done a whole bunch of work, without actually getting anything done. It’s psychological.

And sometimes we lose track of the days, and “I’ll start this when I finish grad school” turns into six weeks/months/years of never actually making any progress because REASONS.

You can set a start date for a big project, and hey, you might even somehow manage to stick to that (GO YOU!). But then you just keep working on that same big project. And it doesn’t feel like you’re making any progress, because it’s still the same thing. And then you run into a whole new problem.

You feel the itch to start something new. Because even though starting is hard, it’s exciting. It makes you feel invincible. As much as you don’t want to abandon your current work-in-progress (or WIP, as the kids say) … THIS NEW THING LOOKS SO SHINY AND YOU WANT TO TOUCH IT.

So then you have to resist. Which is confusing. Because you just fought against this struggle to get something started, and now you have to fight the urge to do it again. WHY.

All right. Deep breaths. It’s fine. I (kind of) know how we can fix this.

It’s all about changing your mindset. Or thinking about things on a much smaller scale.

Because if you think about it, as a writer, you’re always starting something new. Maybe not always a new book or a new script or a new blog. But you’re always starting a new chapter, or a new scene, or a new post. There’s always another article or review, another stanza, another page.

Don’t think of projects in terms of the whole. Not all the time. Not if you’re a terrible starter. If you’re not good at beginnings, then create more beginnings for yourself. Keep track of the new things you start. You’ll soon realize you do it a lot more than you thought — and it’s not as difficult as it always seems. Just because you haven’t jumped into a brand-new creative endeavor doesn’t mean you’re not making progress somewhere else — no matter how slow. Just because you haven’t started YET doesn’t mean you won’t … but you still really SHOULD.

It’s like breaking up big goals into small ones. You just look at a really big thing in much smaller pieces. It makes everything a lot easier — and in many cases, a lot more enjoyable, too.

The best way to practice getting started is to start more things. Don’t go crazy, don’t try to start 10 new projects at once, because trust me, you will die. Take note of your small starts. Let yourself be proud of them. Remember that starting is just a hurdle, but it’s not the only one. It’s OK to be afraid and uncertain. You can’t see it now, but starting is worth it. It always has been. It always will be.

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.

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3 thoughts on “How to Get Better At Starting

  1. wow–it’s like you went into my brain and found what’s been bugging me. It’s all well and good until you remember you actually have to WRITE something, not just leave it in your head to work on and dream about. And yes, it doesn’t always come out the way you want, which is why you have to try anyway. I just get discouraged too easily, and then things come up. It’s very true what you’re saying, and glad I read it. I needed the reminder.

    1. Glad to have somehow read your mind over the internet — I’d say “Anytime!” but, uh, that’d be weird. So, uh, THANKS FOR READING (:

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