how to start writing: just freakin’ start already!

When people find out that I’m a writer, they usually ask one of two questions:

  1. Where do your ideas come from?
  2. How do, you know, write shit?

I usually just shrug and mumble something, cheeks heating up. It’s super-hard to talk about writing, especially the ever-elusive where-ideas-come-from conversation.

So here we are. The answers to both questions are kind of wrapped up together, I think. And it’s not very sexy. So, sorry.

The answer is this: just write.

But how can you write about something you don’t have an idea for? I hear you. It sounds weird. But walk with me for a sec (or roll with me if you have mobility challenges).

Our brains are made up of neurons and dendrites, and some other stuff. Dendrites are like the feelers that connect the neurons together. When you are faced with a new situation, your brain tries to find a neural pathway that it has already built.

Your brain flips through its rolodex of neural pathways, trying to find one that fits the new situation. When you sit down to write, if you don’t frequently sit down to write, your brain will try to tell you to do something else that you do more often (and have a stronger neural pathway for). Like eating, for example. As far as your brain is concerned, eating is always a great idea.

So then you tell your brain, No, brain, it’s not time to eat. It’s time to write. And your brain won’t want to write, because writing is hard, and eating is much easier. So you need to outsmart your brain and make it feel great about writing. This will take a lot of work. (Plus, you can tell your brain that you will write first, and then you can eat a tasty snack.)

Think about learning to ride a bike, or learning to ride on roller skates. At first, it feels super-strange, and you feel like you’ll never get the hang of it. Then it feels a bit more comfortable, then it feels pretty freakin’ awesome. Then you can’t imagine not doing it. That’s the journey you will need to take with writing.

You can’t expect to sit down at your laptop and spit out The Greatest NovelTM any more than you could expect to throw on a pair of roller skates and whiz around the block. You’re gonna stumble. You’re gonna lose your balance. You’ll probably feel like a bit of a doofus. It’ll take a while to get your legs under you.

If you want to get serious about this writing thing, write literally anything. Every day, write something. Set a time or word limit if you want. Write a story from your childhood. Write about your favourite type of ice cream, and why it’s your favourite. Or write about how hard it is to write. Just write. Every day.

After a while, your brain will get used to writing. It will learn that it needs to come up with ideas for your writing. Soon ideas’ll start shooting up out of nothing. You’ll scarcely be finished with one before another one shoots up at you.

After that, your next step will be to stick with one idea long enough to finish it, but that can be another topic for another day.

You got this. It’s gonna be amazing.

Featured image was created by the author on

Published by amy

Coffee-drinker, money-saver. Laughs at "that's what she said."

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