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How to Get Started With Your Writing Project

Pick up the pen...let's get started!


We all have a story to tell. We may not all be William Shakespeare or Stephen King, but we can all write. Every author leans on a team of editors (covered in our April posting) to sharpen our thoughts into interesting and inspiring prose. But so many people never even pick up the pen (or keyboard). This month's Write On! post will help you get started by addressing the most common questions aspiring writers have:

  • Why write?

  • What to write?

  • How to write?

  • When to write?

  • Where to write?

  • Who to write to?


In the January Write On! post, we covered common writing themes which will pop up throughout our year of writing. To get started, we will especially lean on the themes of Purpose, Passion, Real Expectations, and Target Audience. You may want to quickly scan January's posting for more details on each.



Why Write?

Many of you have been drawn to writing. Perhaps you feel you have a story to tell? Do you read a lot and it sparks ideas in your head? Maybe you've enjoyed journaling or jotting down short stories? Perhaps you were on the school newspaper in high school and want to rekindle that sense of creativity and pride? Or maybe you feel you can help people by sharing your own experiences and ideas?


People write for a variety of reasons.


Sometimes the motivation is more entrepreneurial, and that is quite okay. Many will write to generate money or as a calling card for their business. Their book may provide credibility for their company or a roadmap for their clients.


However, even if you are writing with money and business in mind, explore the passion. Writing is typically a very solitary and drawn-out process. Most writers don't finish projects because they don't know their purpose AND passion. What is yours?



What to Write?

So you want to write. You understand your "Why" and it's motivating you to get started, but perhaps you don't really know exactly what to write. Some have a story in their head or a business they are trying to promote, but oftentimes people have many ideas swirling around in their heads. How do you decide what to write?


Jot down all the ideas that you've thought about. Maybe it's a memoir or nonfiction book about something you know or are curious about. Maybe it's a sci-fi adventure or a fictional story that sprouted from your own daydreaming or life experiences. Write them all down. You may eventually write about all of them, but many writers get stuck trying to figure out which ONE to get started on. Look at the list. Which one(s) do you focus on most? Which seems more exciting or interesting to you now?


Oftentimes we write about stories or genres that we read about. It makes sense because it provides us with a bit of grounding and a reference point. So which ideas fit that mold?


If you are down to a few ideas, write a couple of pages of each. I like to write a "Letter to the Reader' about why I want to write about that topic, what I hope to accomplish, and what are key points or storylines to explore. But you may wish to just write part of the story for each of your few shortlist ideas. These pages may never be part of your book, but this exercise will help you flush out your ideas and more importantly help you discover which you have more energy and passion for now. Keep the others on your list for later.



How to Write - Plotter or Pantser?

You may opt to develop a bit of an outline for your story or nonfiction book. As a very structured person, I definitely do this before I get started. People that rely on that structure are often called "plotters" while those that just write without an outline are "pantsers" - they write from the seat of their pants. Either style is fine. If you tend to be more organized and find you NEED that organization in your life, you're likely a plotter so go with that. Brainstorm the arc of the story or the structure of the business or self-help topic you are going to write about. However, whether pantser or plotter, give yourself the flexibility to change your plans as your writing exposes new ideas.


Beyond your outline and regardless of whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, writing is a creative process. The right side of your brain houses the more creative ideas. Conversely, the left side is more analytical. You will lean on this left side for editing, publishing, and marketing plans to be discussed later. But for now, you really want to tap your creative right side and let it run free. To do this, with your outline or ideas in hand, start writing.



"Don't Get It Right, Get It Written"

My first writing coach, Roger Leslie, gave me some brilliant advice which I recall practically every time I write - "Don't get it right, get it written." Many people want to edit along the way. They feel what they have put on paper is sloppy at best and shitty at worst. And you know what, it very well may be. But this is the process of "vomiting on the page." Get your story and points out of your head and onto paper. If you try to fix them along the way or even in a separate session that day, you are disturbing your creative process. Our brains don't do well moving back and forth between creative and analytical. Let yourself bask in the creative right side. Give yourself permission to just dump your story out, knowing you will have plenty of time later to hone it into the book you envision. Trust me on this. Your story will go to many amazing places, your characters will become more vibrant, and your advice more applicable if you just "keep right!"


You may check out podcasts and books on the writing process. I would also suggest you read/listen to other books in the genre in which you are writing. You aren't trying to steal the storyline but just explore your writing style.


Now is also a good time to find others. Writing is quite solitary. As an introvert, I was drawn to that. However, our writing can benefit from talking it out with others. Maybe it's a writing friend, or you could hire a writing coach to answer your questions and provide some guidance. Writing circles provide great support on your journey as everyone can relate to the challenges of getting started and they may eventually provide some gentle critique of your writing when you are ready.



When & Where to Write?

This can be a very personal choice. Some only write at a certain time of day, for a certain amount of time, or words, in a particular place with the light just so... I've tried to steer away from such rigidity because I think writer's block (covered in our March post) often derives from this narrow window for writing. So I try to be flexible. Try writing in different rooms of the house, inside and out. Go to a coffee shop or a park. Sure, there may be distractions but they may actually enhance your creativity. And who says we must lock ourselves in a dark room to write?


Furthermore, I really don't like the pressure of having to write for an hour or so many pages or words. Hey, sometimes you'll feel it and other days you won't. If you want to write 3, 4, or 5 days a week (I don't advocate 6-7 days/week - our brains must rest), put it on the calendar. But if you are struggling to get started, don't feel you must stay glued to the chair and muscle through until your time/word count is accomplished. This makes writing feel very laborious and an obligation rather than a joy. Give it a go but if you are struggling, jot down some notes on why you think you are struggling today (not sure what to write, stuck on a topic or character, have other non-writing things on your mind) and then walk away. Address the other items or just sit or take a walk (my favorite) and ponder the items you are stuck on.


You will return the next day or two more refreshed and likely with some new ideas to solve your problem and continue your writing.



Who to Write to?

Finally, consider who you are writing to. Who is your target audience? Who do you expect will be interested in buying your book? Here is a clue: it's not everyone. The reality is, not everyone will buy your book. You are much more likely to sell your book to a rather narrow group of people who are seeking particular information or entertainment. So understand who that would be, even down to the demographics. Do you expect your target audience to be primarily male or female, baby boomers or Gen Zs, college students, US southerners, or people that have been on overseas ex-pat assignments? Once you identify your primary (and perhaps secondary) target audiences, always keep them in mind as you write (and publish and market). What style of writing would entice them? What level of detail? Why would they read your book? What are they looking for? These questions will help you serve your reader, connect with your audience, and ultimately sell more books.


However, I would caution not to deviate from your true, authentic self and your writing passion and purpose. The key is not to change yourself, but to find an audience that will connect with your personal style and motivations. Once you identify that, write it down. Perhaps even post a picture of your target person. Glance at it occasionally as you write and later when you edit and prepare to share (market) your book with them.


In my first book, I paid no mind to my target audience as I wrote. I finally invested some time to discover my audience as I was editing and I nearly had to rewrite the entire book. Spending some time upfront will be well worth it as you develop a more concise message and a more dedicated community through your writing.



Celebrate!

Finally, part of the key to getting started is to take the opportunity to celebrate. Sure, your ultimate goal may be to finish and publish your book, but there are lots of mini-goals along the way including selecting your topic, making an outline, and getting into a routine. We've all heard of authors who crank out a book a month. Let me tell you that is VERY rare and, unless you are a famous romance novelist with a team of researchers and editors, the result is likely crap. Writing takes a while - for some a few months of writing 5 days a week and for others a year or more of writing during work breaks. So you have to find opportunities to celebrate along the way. Have fun writing. Whether this is a dream, a hobby, or your career, if you don't enjoy the journey, it will be arduous and you likely will stop before you finish.



 

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