I’m always telling beginning writers that a major part of the secret of writing success is to write. Which is true. After all nothing can happen in a writing career if the words don’t appear either on screen or on paper. Readers need words to read, and that’s what we’re doing, creating the words for readers to read.
As a veteran writer the admonishment to write is obvious – I conjure up an idea, sit down at the computer and natter on. But that’s after more years of practice than I really want to admit.
Back at the beginning I do remember freezing before a blank sheet of paper and then an empty computer screen. Even if I had an idea I hardly knew what to do about getting anything written, let alone anything remotely publisher.
So let me give you an example.
I conceived the idea of a column about my experiences as a single parent. I wanted to be the Dear Abby of single parenting. Since that required questions and I had no readers yet, I had to first create a series of questions. I did this by thinking about the questions I would have liked answered along the way and began a list of questions. I no longer have that initial list, but I know many of the items on the list were single words or incomplete sentences, probably like this:
- mowing the lawn
- doing the dishes
After I had a good long list I turned the list into real sounding questions, sort of like this:
My kids are 3 and 4 years old. When do I tell them about sex?
My son is 15 and his chore is to mow the lawn. Right now it looks like a jungle out there – what do I do?
My 14 year old son refuses to do the dishes. Apparently on his last visit to his dad’s he was told ‘dishes are women’s work.’ I don’t even know how to begin to tell him he’s wrong.
As I recall it took me quite awhile to figure out how I wanted to form the questions. It turned out the answers were even trickier. But that’s not the point.
The point is that once I had a question I could begin to form the answer. The question gave me something to chew on to write about that. And before that was the idea of the column.
In other words, you take your idea and you begin to write a rough draft; you don’t worry about complete sentences, or spelling or even organization, you just write.
It’s similar to the hand written Morning Pages Julia Cameron talks about in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity except you’re writing to or about a specific idea and probably with a particular market in mind.
Once you get some writing down, you can begin to rewrite and edit it, but not until you’ve put some words to paper or screen.
Yes, the rough draft is apt to be awful – that’s why it’s called a ‘rough’ draft. Particularly in the beginning, those first efforts aren’t expected to be readable prose. As you develop the habit of writing you can begin to work toward smoother drafts, but not until the writing habit is firmly established.
So quit reading, go write, then come back and tell us how it went.