Tips to Start Writing

There are three types of people in the world. The first, people who have no interest in writing. I envy them because they can live their lives carefree without the guilt that they should be writing. They can watch TV, play video games, or read a book without being jealous that they didn’t write the material. Then there is the elite group with members like Stephen King churning out multiple novels a year. Even if you like his style, you have to admire his productivity. Finally, there are those of us who yearn to complete something. I wouldn’t even say that we yearn to get published because thanks to modern technology we can self-publish and promote ourselves. We also spend time reading books about writing, when we really just need to sit down and write. Here are some suggestions to help you along if you have ever had the desire to write, or perhaps you do but need some motivation.

While starting to write can be as easy as sitting down with a laptop or pen and paper, we sometimes need some outside motivation such as different places to write or new ideas. Here are some avenues to explore:

Find a Writing Buddy
Writing is a solitary act; however, it is helpful to engage with others for various reasons. Writing with others helps us set aside time for actually writing. If we make plans with a friend or group we may be motivated by being a good citizen who keeps plans we’ve made. It’s not easy to brush aside our writing time to finish all those things we have to do or think we have to do.

It can also be motivational when we get positive feedback and encouragement when we have friends who look forward to reading our writing. Having someone else read our work helps us realize what other people respond to. There are often things I want to cut out when I’m revising my work and those are the very things my friends say is the good stuff.

Writing Groups
You can join or start a writing group or take a class. It is very easy to find both groups and writing programs online. Writing groups are a great way to start writing. You will make friends with others who share your interest, get feedback on your work, recognize what works and what doesn’t by giving feedback on other people’s work, and have motivation to write. You will also make friends who will get your crazy writer’s quirks like your need to collect quotations or underline sentences in books you’re reading. You can find local groups by searching on, checking out college websites for writing programs, and your local library.

There is also Nanowrimo which is a very scary sounding word that stands for National Novel Writing Month. Although I always had an interest in writing, it was Nanowrimo that really got me going. Participants join the challenge to write 50,000 words during the month of November. The object is just to write and write and write and not worry about editing. When you join the online community you will receive motivational emails, see the word count bar rise as you login in how many words you write each day, and have the opportunity to physically meet other Wrimos (Nanowrimo participants) throughout the month for group writing sessions. At the end of November you upload your document (you can scramble the letters of your words into gibberish for protection) and their robot counts the words. If you reach 50,000 words you get a very nice certificate to show off your accomplishment. Not only did I achieve this multiple years, I made some very good friends that I still keep in touch with to this day.

Maybe you have your reasons for not wanting to join a writing group. I will admit there was a dark period when (after November ended) my Nanowrimo buddies and I continued to meet at the bookstore every week and we had gotten to be pretty good friends. We ended up chatting more than we wrote. Maybe you have a child or a friend who is going to school. You can have a joint study session to help you set aside time to write. Writing groups or buddies aren’t necessary to becoming a prolific writer; however, the camaraderie, motivation, encouragement, and accountability are all enriching and beneficial to building a healthy writing life.

Writing Environments
You will eventually establish your own writing rhythm which will be made up of a place and time you like to write. I have a friend whose house is too chaotic to make writing at home feasible. She decided to write at work from 10-10:30 am. Would her boss like this? Probably not, but it works for her. Do you have a desk job or work in an environment where you can sneak in 10-15 minutes of writing at work? How about while everyone else is catching up on their weekend or getting their cup of coffee? You could be productive and start your day out writing. You already have to be there, if you are in front of a computer you can start out on a positive note. How about writing on your lunch break or stopping off somewhere to write for half an hour before going home? Or if you are a night owl you can write at home when everyone goes to bed.

You can also go somewhere where you can treat yourself for making the effort like Starbucks or your favorite restaurant (use this one sparingly as it can get expensive). Sometimes it’s helpful to set yourself up at a table, away from the distractions of your everyday life, and hold a hot or cold beverage in your hand. I enjoy writing at the bookstore. Being in the presence of books is a sacred experience. Be careful though, the lure of browsing can be a distraction. Though consider buying something while you’re there to keep them from becoming extinct. If it’s too noisy, tune out the world with headphones and music you like. I like to write with instrumental/spa music so I don’t get distracted by the lyrics.

As you progress you may eventually get to the point where can write at home but try experimenting with different times and locations to find what works best for you and switch it up sometimes.

Actually Writing
So you have decided to write. You’re sitting in your comfy chair or at a desk. Now what? You may already have an idea. If you do, that’s great, get going! If not, there are writing prompts or writing exercises that can be helpful to get started. You can search for writing prompts online, in books, or even have friends suggest them. The book The Lie That Tells the Truth by John Dufresne is full of interesting prompts such as writing about your hometown or using tabloid headlines for inspiration. You don’t have to strictly use what you come up with from the writing prompts, a small kernel from the exercise may inspire something completely unexpected.

The most helpful tip for me is setting a timer and writing for 10 minutes. Often times, starting is the hardest part. I easily end up resetting the timer and writing for at least 30 minutes when I do this. I tend to put off starting because I want to spend a lot of time on it and be focused and profound, but really once I start it just flows.

You can also set a word count for a particular time period such as 1667 words a day which will get you 50,000 words in a month. The word count idea comes from Nanowrimo. The goal is just to get yourself going. The muse will show up and things will start to fall into place. This is a steep goal to begin with but how about 500 words per day or 2,000 per week?

Share Your Work
Lastly, I would say find people who enjoy your writing and let them read it, after all writing is meant to be shared, right? Suppose Shakespeare, John Grisham, and Emily Dickinson just wrote in their notebooks and stuffed it in a drawer…ok Emily Dickinson pretty much did but she still made it into the world. Make a pact with your group or at least one friend and email them a new or revised piece every Monday. This gives you the weekend to be productive.

The Universe Will Send You What You Need
Once you start writing you will find that the universe sends what you need. I was working on a fiction novel set in South Beach (still in progress) when I met the former mayor, Alex Daoud, in the local Books and Books. He recommended his book, Sins of South Beach, for background information. It’s about the good and not so good things he did during his time in office as well as the transformation of Miami Beach under his reign. Just the fact that I met him so randomly amazed and inspired me. I often find when talking to new people there are lots of kindred spirits out there who write or used to write and have stopped.

Thomas Mann said “a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” When you find these people you can inspire each other. Hopefully you will find these tips helpful to getting you started. If you have other suggestions, please feel free to share them in the comments.

Happy Writing!

Published by Cherrie Ali

I live in Miami and I enjoy writing, traveling, dogs, and geocaching.

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