You’re starting to write. You want to write. You want to be a writer. But you don’t know where to start. That’s okay. We've all been there.
Today you will learn the secret of being a writer.
Are you ready?
Here it is.
That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? You may think, and you’d be right. However, job one of writing “creatively” is to actually write. Often. Get your words on the paper or on the screen. Because until you do, it’s all just something you mean to do and don’t.
I play the bass – badly. I often think I’d like to form a band. An all-girl punk band like The Runaways/Hole called something edgy and cool like The Razorettes or She Gives a Blank Stare, but I haven’t done it yet. Why? I like the idea but I basically can’t be bothered to find other band members and get a set together – or learn any hard songs - (all key parts of forming a band, really) – but really, it boils down to one thing: I don’t want it enough.
Writing is the same. You have to want to actually do it. And then do it regularly. You have to put the hours in. You wouldn’t expect to learn the cello without practising, so apply that logic to writing. No writer in the world just sits down one day and pens their masterpiece without hours and hours and years of practice beforehand.
That’s a sobering thought, isn’t it? But the nice thing about writing is that it shouldn’t be a chore – you enjoy writing, probably, that’s why you’re reading this. So doing it a lot will be fun.
But how do I start?
Here’s what you do:
Find a half-sentence or phrase (open the newspaper or a book to a random page and use that), and write continuously without stopping to a deadline – five or ten minutes to start, and then once you get used to it you can go for longer.
It doesn’t matter what you write – total nonsense is good. You just have to keep writing, plunging onwards onto the blank paper, and ABSOLUTELY NOT READING BACK WHAT YOU’VE WRITTEN, STOPPING AND THINKING, CROSSING THINGS OUT OR TRYING TO THINK OF BETTER WORDS. It’s about creating a flow of writing from your unconscious and not judging what comes out.
Phrases to start you off:
We are not…
Or you might like something more prescriptive, like:
It was a crisp winter morning when…
She walked into the kitchen and…
I am furious about…
You never know when…
I tell students that if they get stuck whilst writing they can repeat the opening words I’ve given them and start off on another tangent, or if that doesn’t work, they can write down all the items in their weekly shop, the colours of the rainbow, describe their cat – whatever they want. They just have to keep writing, and even those boring lists or whatever may lead to an interesting avenue. Honestly.
Do this every day for the next two weeks. The aim at this stage is to write little and often rather than larger occasional splurges: that way, you’ll get used to freeing up your mind and your writing hand.
This exercise will:
- Reveal some very interesting ideas from your unconscious
- Demonstrate the importance of not self-editing in the early stages of writing
- Get words on paper
- Start to build up a nice little collection of free writing you can perhaps draw on for ideas in the future
- Build your confidence
Off you go! Write, don’t be afraid of writing rubbish, and write regularly.
Once you've done it for two weeks, do it for another two weeks.
Then another two.
You see where I'm going here.
After a while, you might think of something else you want to write. Maybe inspired by a book you really love.
If I applied this kind of work ethic to bass playing, I'd be Flea by now.