Failure to Launch: Why is Getting Started so Hard?
By Malik Sharrieff
Many writers and authors agree that just starting a project can often be the most difficult part of the writing process. As a publisher I can testify that often getting a writer started on a project can be the most difficult part of the publishing process. It’s a little embarrassing, but I must have stared at the white screen for at least 15 minutes before deciding on the topic of this article.
Whenever we sit down to create, there will inevitably be a period of reflection on the project that we’re about to pour ourselves into. However, it’s when that time of reflection morphs into dithering and second-guessing that the anxiety and self-doubt begins to creep in and sabotage our efforts even before we begin.
Blocked Before the Writing Starts
I think it is important to understand why this phenomenon occurs in the first place. Most creative personalities have an innate need to create that is coupled by an intense desire for their creations to be accepted by the wider world. It’s emotional and psychological and why publishers like me even exist.
Honestly, if you only wanted to write without your work being read and loved by many, you wouldn’t lament over getting just the right opening line and how those first few words will (or won’t) intrigue your readers. It’s absolutely natural for creative personalities to feel this way. However, allowing this natural inclination to derail your project or even impact your production schedule in not acceptable.
Think of it like this; by allowing this circumstance to persist, you are not only delaying the completion of the project you are trying to start, but every phenomenal work of literature queuing up behind that one! You are actually denying your fans the very works of literary mastery walled up behind that first word that just won’t seem to jump onto that blank white screen.
Breaking Down the Dam
Now let’s talk about breaking through and getting those creative works of genius flowing!
First, make sure that before you start a project of any significance that you plan your work accordingly. Did you map out your story, plots and sub-plots, character profiles and development arcs? Having these simple tools close to hand gives you direction and confidence, and makes it so much easier to write those first words, paragraphs and pages.
Next, don’t start at the beginning. One of my favorite authors never starts any of her novels at the beginning. Instead, she takes the most compelling action or conflict of her story and uses that as the prologue or first chapter. Not only is it an incredibly exciting way to start the novel, but she can then use the next chapters to explain how events developed to that point. She calls it her, “Apex/Development/Resolution” method. Writing the crescendo of the story makes writing the beginning or development of the story a breeze. Then, it’s an easy glide to the resolution.
Of, course even if you don’t want to organize your project with the Apex at the beginning, writing it first can still be an effective way to get you going. In the same way, it can be an effective strategy to write the resolution first. Writers often know where they want their characters to end up, so writing that out gives you your start and you can develop beginning and the middle after writing the end. Once you have all of the parts written out, you can organize the project in a way that makes the greatest sense to you and the greatest impact on your reader. After all, the Book of Genesis wasn’t the first book written in the Bible.
Another tactic is to just start writing without any regard to how bad this draft might be. It’s called a “Trash Draft.” It exists even before the first draft. The T-draft is written almost like a dictation of a daydream, without regard to form, flow or function. It gets ideas out onto the page with an acceptance that this draft is so far away from anything close to finished it doesn’t even have a number.
You can use the T-draft as a starting point for your first draft (the real and serious starting point for your project). And the best part of your T-draft is that you expect it to be scrapped so there is absolutely no pressure when writing the T-draft. Also, the T-draft should only include a few to a couple dozen pages of copy. Once you’ve gotten that far, you can use the T-draft as a reference tool and start your real first draft.
Finally, don’t get started writing by writing. Instead, create your first draft (or even your T-draft) by audio recording it or dictating it into a “speech-to-text” program. It’s easier to talk out ideas than it is to write them, so just do that! It’s a great way to take the pressure off and get past the, “I just don’t know how to get started!” part of the project.