Where to Start For New Writers

So you have an idea for a book, or a blog, or some writing-based idea. Where do you start? There is such a wealth of info out there that it quickly gets overwhelming. The road to becoming a writer in 2021 is well-documented but depending on your experience, goals, resources, and time, where you step onto that road is vastly different from the next writer. Sometimes it may feel you have too many options, which can lead to paralysis.

This post serves as a stripped-down guide on how to get started writing, and my perspective focuses on building a writing habit before you start making lofty writing goals. Because without the right habits in place, you won’t ever be able to reach your goals. I’m also not going to list every single resource because again that defeats the purpose of you taking action to meet those goals. I will give a few recommendations, and I’ll trust that you can take it from there.

Decide on Your Writing Tools

Decide on how you want to collect your ideas and flesh them out. For instance, I always have a physical notebook to brainstorm ideas and outline posts or to take notes from trainings and webinars. My brain needs that tactile interaction to get the words flowing, but it’s only my starting point. I then turn to my computer. For several years, I kept my personal “in progress” pieces on Evernote but have moved to Notion within the last year. I like having a place to keep notes from my Kindle reads and other odds and ends that haven’t made it into a full piece yet. After I’ve workshopped them there for a while, I’ll move them into a Word doc or WordPress to get ready to publish. A lot of it just depends on my mood or the piece that I’m working on if it lends more to typing or handwriting. So take some time to experiment with what works for you and pay attention to what seems to flow for each phase of the writing process. Do your ideas really get flowing when you have a pen in hand? Or do you like the speed of working on a computer? A mixture of both, like me?

Develop a Writing Habit Before Making Writing Goals

It is one thing to sit down under the glow of sudden inspiration and pour your heart onto a page (or screen). It’s an entirely different matter to intentionally structure a book or blog post, self-edit, and then submit to the editorial process under someone else’s keen eye. One phase is like the glow when you are first in love with your partner and the rest is learning how to make the relationship work decade after decade.

So if you want to make writing a regular part of your life, start by establishing some good habits. For instance, if you’ve never regularly written, don’t start by saying, “I’m going to write a book in a week.” You are already setting yourself up for failure.

In his book, Atomic Habits, author James Clear puts it this way:

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”

If you’ve never consistently written, a book isn’t going to materialize within a weekend for you. You need to start by establishing systems or habits that help you reach that goal.

So begin building the habit of writing three times a week. That’s it. It could be brainstorming new ideas, working on a new one, or tinkering with a piece you’ve already written, but commit to writing three times a week, with no time or word count requirement. Same time and place if possible in order to cue your brain: this is when we write.

Once this baseline habit is established (and it will take more than a few days!), you can try upping it to five times a week or incorporating a word count goal or time goal. As this habit gets stronger and stronger, you can branch into a more formal writing process (brainstorm, research, write, revise, publish) and begin to work on whatever specific project you’d like.

Document Your Process

Studying journalism in school helped me focus on the writing process and keep it grounded: identify the story angle, gather your facts and research, conduct your interviews with relevant and credible sources, additional research, writing, and re-writing. And after reading The Art of Slow Writing last year, I came to see how valuable documenting your process can be. Yes, you are writing about your writing and that may feel a bit meta, but this practice can unlock parts of your brain that are keeping you from making progress on your work or even finishing a project.

For instance, I was having trouble finishing a post for a client, so I turned to my writing journal and began describing the resistance I was feeling in connecting two thoughts in the article. As soon as I verbalized that struggle, I realized those two thoughts didn’t actually connect in real life. I quickly made some notes, and even though I was done writing for the day, I revisited the notes the next day and worked through the difficult parts of the piece and finished it.

Whether you do end up writing a book or launching a blog or take up writing for non-profits or businesses, the key to success is embracing the process of writing. Because that’s what writing is, repeating a process over and over until the project is finished. It’s not glamorous, but it is powerful and effective as you build the muscles to launch your words out into the world.

“When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.”

― James Clear, Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones

Helpful Resources That Won’t Overwhelm You

4 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started Freelancing

This week is National Freelance Appreciation week and this month also marks six years since I started my own freelance career. In that spirit, I’m sharing a few things I wish I knew before I started freelancing. If you find yourself contemplating launching your own freelance business, I hope some of my experiences can help you.

Plan to Experiment

So many times I wanted the first thing to be “the thing” that worked: that one post would draw all the business, that one ad would drive all the traffic, that one thing that would shape the course of my business over the next several years. And if and when these efforts didn’t pan out, “failure” was the only category that experience could be filed under. I didn’t understand that experimenting was the lifeblood to a freelancer’s career. I tried my hand at a lot of writing-related ventures and while some things opened doors and led to great contacts or further honing of what I love, some were just duds or not a good fit for me. Not failures, but all helpful info. There’s just no way to predict how something will turn out. Instead of looking at it as something to avoid, I better understand now that it’s something to embrace and plan for. Don’t be afraid to try new things, and then, keep trying new things.

Treat Your Home Office Like a REAL Office

I have said being homeschooled uniquely prepared for me for working from home. But the fact remains in order to be successful, you have to treat your home like an office during work hours. Structure your workspace (mental as well as physical) in a way that minimizes distractions (well, as much as possible in this pandemical setting) and schedule your time in a way that sets your efforts up for success. For instance, if you are focused and ready to go in the morning, don’t continually schedule non-work appointments or hangouts in your prime working time. Shift those to the afternoon. Likewise, if afternoon is your prime time, schedule those appointments in the morning.

Be aware of how your surroundings affect your mental state. I need relatively clutter-free surroundings in order to focus, so some of that prep work may start the night before to ensure the kitchen is clean, laundry is ready to be started, and my workspace is clear. Otherwise I may start organizing a closet that hasn’t been touched in three years instead of sending out queries or following up on leads.

And as much as possible I:

  • Leave my phone on DND until a certain time in the morning and I leave it in the other room
  • Turn off notifications on my computer
  • Use the Freedom app to block certain sites when I need to really buckle down (just started using this and I love it so far!)
  • Make sure I have water and tea before starting a project
  • Use noise-cancelling headphones

Your techniques may look different than mine, but the point is to treat your freelance work like the business it is. Just because there is the element of flexibility doesn’t mean it deserves less respect than an office job.

Learn to Steward Your Mental Resources

I haven’t spoken about this in a while, but interestingly enough, my freelancing journey has coincided with my husband and I’s infertility journey. I left my office job in February 2015 to begin writing “Bloom” and that spring marked the start of our infertility struggles. The next year when I was in the thick of publishing my first book and figuring out what to do with my “Bloom” series, I did five IUIs and the medication I was on made me moody, depressed, and fatigued…not the best combo for pursuing maximum productivity and trying to establish your own business. But through those difficulties, I learned a lot about myself, creativity, and how to listen to my body. And on the other side of that, I have also learned to better manage my focus and energy. I have learned that some days when I feel “off” or not in the mood, I can still push through and accomplish more than I anticipated. Especially over the last year, I’ve enlarged my capacity for picking work up in the afternoon, and pushing through is the right choice for that day. Other days, it is okay to just call it a day. Writing and editing are extremely mentally taxing, and you don’t have an unlimited attention span or mental resources. So learn to steward your own resources well.

Following Up is Not “Rude”

Similar to my first point, at the beginning of the process, I wanted one call or one email to be enough when following up with potential leads or clients because I thought follow-up seemed…well…rude somehow. Now there are for sure ways that following-up can be done distastefully, but more often than not, it’s not being rude to follow up on an inquiry or possible lead because people get distracted or forget. If you care about your work, you’re going to go the extra mile to make sure people benefit from your business. Plan for following-up and you’ll be surprised at the progress you make.

As a freelancer, every day is so different, and sometimes it’s hard to see progress as the days slog by, and even as the weeks go by. But take a look back over the past several months and years and you’ll see how each decision, each time you put your butt in the chair and written has added up to meaningful progress. Don’t give up.

The world needs you and your brave, creative work.