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