I don’t know about you, but I find that starting is always the hardest part. It doesn’t matter what it is – a new exercise regime, getting up earlier or a new writing project to compile your family history. Motivation can get you to the starting line but isn’t always enough to make you begin.
Writing is hard because you put so many expectations on yourself and that story you want to tell. You have lofty ambitions and feel disappointed when you don’t achieve those in the first draft. You set goals such as:
You want to show your knowledge, skill and passion for family history, so it compels the reader to want more. Oh, and you only want to write it once, so the words have to come out perfectly in the first draft.
It sounds overwhelming, wouldn’t you say?
No wonder that that flashing cursor and the blank page look so intimidating. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself before you’ve even managed to start typing.
The good news is you aren’t alone. I’ve been there, in fact, I’m often still there. Some days I spend more time trying to craft the first sentence than I do on the rest of the article.
A bit silly, right? Because I can (and usually do) go back and change that first sentence. So, for this reason, I’ve developed six tricks that I use to overcome the overwhelm and just start writing.
Don’t worry about formatting or layout at this point; your goal is to start documenting what you want to say. As with any writing project, the first draft is where you tell yourself the story. Just start writing and get the words down on the paper or screen.
To make it as easy as possible for yourself, use your ancestor’s timeline as a writing prompt. Then write the tales of their life adventures in chronological order. You can change the structure later if you want too, but for now, concentrate on writing what you know.
Also, don’t worry about grammar or spelling too much at this stage. As long as you can read what you’ve written, and it makes sense, keep going. This draft isn’t for anyone else’s eyes, and you can fix the typos in editing.
Writing stories isn’t a skill everyone spends lots of time developing. And yet, somehow it seems appropriate to schedule long blocks of time (e.g. 2 or 3 hours) to work on your writing project. Even when you have little or no experience writing for others.
That sounds pretty daunting to me!
I use a variation of the Pomodoro Technique for my writing sessions. The idea is that you work in short windows time, where you focus on only one task. When the times is up, you take a short break before sitting down for another session.
For example, set the timer for 30 minutes, then start working on your writing project. Keep writing (or typing) until the timer rings.
Grab a timer and try this for yourself. Yes, you can use your smartphone or find an app online. I prefer a kitchen timer because it removes the chance of falling into a social media rabbit hole.
Don’t worry if the first few minutes, or even the first session, isn’t useable copy. A part of the process is decluttering your brain so you can focus on the writing project at hand.
Another tip is to gather together the resources you’ll need before you start. That way you remove the potential distractions that may pop up when you go looking for your notes.
Deep down, I’m a Nancy Drew wanna-be, solving mysteries and reporting on them. At least, that’s what I blame for my childhood habit of recording myself telling stories. Luckily, this odd habit has turned out to have value when it comes to starting a writing project.
I create all outlines in Google Docs using the voice typing feature. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a blog post or one of my ancestor’s stories. I brainstorm out loud, and Google Docs transcribes my speech into text.
The best part is you don’t need any expensive equipment, only a microphone and a free Google account. In most instances, earbuds with a built-in microphone will do the trick.
Then start talking.
It’s bound to feel a little weird at first, even if you usually talk to yourself all the time like I do. You’ll also need to practice speaking at different speeds to find your ‘voice typing’ pace. And be sure to enunciate or spell out complex words that might be tricky to understand.
The transcription is not going to get every word correct, so you’ll need to tidy up the text at the end. However, this will improve if you continue to experiment with your speed and tone.
Now you can overcome the overwhelm for your next writing project by trying one or all of these ideas to get the words flowing. Try them all to find your favourite, or use a combination of all three to get started.
With these three tricks up your sleeve, you won’t find yourself starting and restarting your next writing project.
LET ME ASK YOU A QUESTION:
Which approach will you try first?
Or do you have another surefire way to break through writers’ block and get writing?
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