The vile blank page.
This specific blog post was blank for weeks before I got started. The intimidation is real, and it applies to novices and more seasoned writers as well. Nowadays, it’s more typically the blank screen, but the same rules apply (with a few unique caveats I’ll mention in a moment). There are three main ways to get started here.
Choose a topic and begin reading
When I was an instructor, I was amazed at the number of students who would pull a topic out of their heads and expect to begin writing at that moment. They assume that’s what all writers do, and, more tragically, that’s what our public school system teaches them. Let’s all be honest–if there’s nothing in your head on a topic, don’t write yet because you have nothing of interest to say.
I was writing for a law firm once, and I had no knowledge of their industry. Before I could have an intelligent conversation with the client, I read. I read their site, their competitor’s sites, articles on the industry and event a book tangentially about what the client did. When I was expected to begin writing, I read even more.
Read, and think, before you write.
Draft an outline
As a professional writer, I refuse to skip this step because of the amount of time and money that is saved here. I typically take the outline to my clients, going over my plan for the article, key words, research and images, before drafting the complete article. Then, the client recommends changes and I make them instantly. I am not attached to the product at this point, and the client does not hesitate to state his or her opinions because it doesn’t feel final.
To pull back the curtain a bit more, I paste my outline directly into the blank page and add the rest of the content around the structure I’ve written. This is when the screen is different from the blank page–you really can’t open an outline on top of notebook paper.
For students, I recommend spending the majority of the time on the outline.
The outline should do the bulk of the lifting for the body of the paper. If you’re working on the introduction and trying to find a hook or wrapping up the conclusion and looking for a way to connect to the reader, freewriting is an option. It’s basically just writing everything that comes to your mind, leaving nothing out. It’s brainstorming in sentence form. However, be prepared to delete. These ideas will not all be good, and many won’t make sense, but it does get you started.
So, I hope you’re ready to begin your next paper. The key is to have something to say about the topic. In our modern world, we are lead to believe that we have something worth saying because we are still breathing. As writers, that is not the case. If you want to write, make sure you write something worth reading, and the only way you can do that is to think, and read, before you write.