How to Start Writing

I used to write a lot.

I used to do it for fun and I used to do it for work.

But then I stopped. I stopped because other things cropped up. A new job, buying a house, getting a puppy, freelance work, getting another puppy and so on. All the usual stuff more commonly referred to as excuses.

Writing is like a muscle: if you don’t use it you lose it.

I used to write stories, articles for my own projects and for others, film reviews and even recipes. I also used to be fascinated with practicing automatic writing. I could sit down and spit out 1000 words in one go. Sometimes they were shit, sometimes they weren’t.

What I’m trying to say is I used to write a lot and now I write nothing. I tried to get back into it a few months back but I failed.

If this was an article about fitness, this is the part where I’d talk about the different steps, such as:

  1. Assess your fitness level
  2. Consuming the right foods
  3. Talking to your doctor

And so on. But this isn’t about fitness, so applying these to writing…

  1. Assess your fitness level – there’s no point deciding to run marathon if you can’t run a mile. Similarly, there’s no point deciding to write a 100,000 word novel if you are struggling writing your Twitter bio.
  2. Consume the right foods – good stuff in equals good stuff out. Stop reading 10 crappy articles everyday and start reading a few good articles. How do you find good articles? Well that’s part of the process.
  3. Talk to your doctor – you want to check none of your limbs will fall off when you decide to lift heavy things. There are no doctors to consult for writing, so go search for people who are good at writing and listen to their advice. But don’t get too bogged down reading the advice of others, because it can lead to…

Paralysis analysis

Paralysis analysis is the state of over-analyzing a situation so that a decision or action is never taken. Sound familiar? It’s one of the most common forms of procrastination. I think the reason it’s so common is that it feels like you are working. And it doesn’t just apply to writing.

“I just need to read about every muscle group before I start lifting weights.”

“I’ve got to read this article about how to write eye catching titles before I can actually write an eye catching title.”

“I can’t start my blog until I’ve read every blog that has ever existed. Ever.”

So why does it matter?

I’m not saying that research is bad. But too much can prevent you from actually doing stuff. I know it does me. At some point you need to stop reading and start doing.

Ironically, you can get lost reading productivity blogs about being productive. I know I’ve done it. Reading about being busy doesn’t actually make you busy.

I don’t know the best way to be productive, but I know what works for me: Nike it. By which I mean: just do it. Sometimes you need to stop reading and just get on with things*

*Obviously don’t stop reading this article. Finish reading this, then crack on 🙂

Remove obstacles (with templates & checklists)

Obstacles = excuses. It’s easy for things to get in the way. The dog is ill and has got to go to the vets, the wifi is down, I’m so tired all I have the energy for is eating biscuits and watching fail videos on Youtube. Obviously I have never used any of these excuses.

Make it easy on yourself. You don’t win any points for doing stuff the hard way. For me, I love a good spreadsheet. It’s actually a little bit sad.

Spreadsheets, spreadsheets everywhere

There’s no need to make thing complicated. A few simple spreadsheets work for me.

  • Blog Template – Pretty simple really. It breaks blog articles down into manageable sections: intro, points, conclusion etc. I find it helpful to see an article framework and then build it up in bits. Staring at a blank page is horrible, but seeing it broken down helps you see what you need to do and provides a psychological boost.
  • Content Calendar – Writing and posting an article is great. Now do it again. That’s where I’ve fallen down in the past. With this, I can jot down ideas as they come to me and plan out when I’m going to write what.
  • IFTTT Recipe (Instapaper & Google Drive) – When you find articles online you think you can reference later, save them. It really helps to tag them, believe me, going through a lot of saved web pages looking for ‘that article’ is going to take a while. Use this recipe to save yourself a bit of time.
  • Blog Post SEO Checklist – You don’t need to spend days painstakingly optimising every blog post for search engines. Sure you can, but that time might be better spent writing more articles. Use this checklist to speed up your posting.

And that’s it. Nothing too complicated, just some simple spreadsheets. Make stuff not excuses.

Steal good stuff

Bernard of Chartres, was a 12th century French monk, or if you are going to get technical; a Neo-Platonist philosopher scholar. He said: “We are like dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Artistic theft is nothing new, nor is it going anywhere. It is essential to the development of creative thinking. We learn to write and draw by copying, chess players study the greats to improve their game and musicians start by learning the songs of others.

Steal from the best and make it your own. For writing, I like to start by stealing/reading. Austin Kleons Steal like an artist and George Orwells 5 rules for effective writing are good places to start.

And if neither of those inspire, check out this quote from the world’s finest actor Stephen Seagal:

“I am hoping that I can be known as a great writer and actor some day, rather than a sex symbol.”

Just let that sink in.

So what now?

So to recap: stop analysing stuff, remove as many obstacles as possible (with templates and cheat sheets) and get inspired by stealing.

What to do next? It’s the simplest thing but also the hardest: Write something.