Writing isn’t easy, and it isn’t supposed to be. It forces you to think through your subject carefully, to choose the words that most clearly articulate your thoughts, and to organize your thoughts in the best way possible. I, like many others, use writing to connect with the world around me. Because I am emotionally invested in what I write, having a bad day can really throw me off my game. A blank white page or screen can be paralyzing: “what could I possibly have to say?” I’ve spent hours staring at blank screens waiting for inspiration to strike. Though that inspiration may eventually find me, most of the time, I don’t want (or don’t have the time) to sit around and wait. Through much trial and error, I have picked up a few tricks that can help others overcome the feeling of dread that many people experience as they try to create something out of what seems like nothing.
Keep a writing journal. I know, every writing coach recommends keeping a journal. It’s much easier said than done – the practice of daily writing can be difficult to keep up with. But it’s also the only way to transform writing from an occasional, lightning-bolt-of-inspiration kind of activity into a habit. And if you’re working on composing a written product, a writing journal can be used to think while you type, getting your ideas out of your head and onto the page so that you can begin to formulate what you actually want to talk about.
Create a safe space. This is another trick to help make writing habitual: find a place where you like writing and stick with it. Maybe it’s a place where you’ve been successful before. Maybe it has a spectacular view. Maybe it’s the only place in your house where you can have some privacy. It could be outside, in the park, or in your favorite coffee shop. Wherever it is, make sure you know that once you’re there it’s time for business.
Listen to what your body and mind are telling you. If you find it difficult to write after a long day of school and practice, try writing first thing in the morning. If you find yourself antsy or unable to focus on the task, go for a run or have a snack. When faced with a deadline, we still have to write, regardless of how we are feeling, and we have to also be aware of the conditions that are necessary for us to do our best work. Writing, because it is essentially an extension of ourselves on a page, can be a sensitive process. Be kind to yourself. Then get to work.
Find a model. Not a model person, but some piece of writing that embodies many of the qualities you would like to incorporate into your own writing. You can use this model as a guide for your own writing when you don’t know where to begin. Writing classes used to be taught by having students copy down and recite great works of literature. Even though this kind of rote learning has gone out of fashion (perhaps rightly so), copying down the work of effective writers gave emerging writers a way forward. This is not to say that you should merely copy the work of others – plagiarism is a serious offense that can ruin an academic or professional career – but by observing the choices that experienced writers make (like form, sentence structure, word choice), and by understanding how those choices are made in order to have some effect on the writer’s audience, you can get a good idea about which choices – which writing tools – are available to you.
By Andrew Laudel, Private Tutor