Half the Battle

Half the battle is just sitting down to write.

Timothy Hallinan has a site called The Blog Cabin, where there has been a series on Creative Living. The series is about creativity from those who live creative lives. I really enjoyed #7 Angela Woodall who is a reporter and also a poet. She talks about that when it comes to creativity, ‘half the battle is just sitting down to write.’ Just getting the ball rolling. Writing instead of doing laundry.

This is something I very much relate to. The moment before writing is always the worst part of the process. It’s easier to get some tea, or surf the web, or do anything other than write. But then you jump off the cliff, the first word goes on the page and suddenly there’s two words and on and on it goes.

It gets better. Not only does the first word lead to the second and on and on, it doesn’t matter what word you write down. It could be any word. It could be the word ‘first’ and you can write it thirty seven times in a row. The first word doesn’t matter, (shhhhh that’s the big secret when it comes to¬†writing it’s the act of putting the word on the paper. Opening up the valve between the creative side of the brain and your particular writing instrument be it pen or keyboard.

To that end, when I work with student writers (or any writer, or when I work on myself even), I always advocate the use of automatic writing exercises. (Angela Woodall talks about these as well in her Creative Living post) These are exercises where you put your pen on the paper, you’re given a time limit and a theme, you start writing and you don’t stop till the time limit is up. If you get stuck, you write about being stuck. If you go off theme, you go off theme. The purpose is not the content but opening that valve between the brain and your fingers. To start writing.

The more the valve is open, the easier it is for ideas to flow, the easier it is to be creative and the easier it becomes to make the leap between the moment before writing and actually writing.

What often stops writers from putting down that first word is the fear that it won’t be genius. That the first word won’t be great and neither will the second, the third, the fourth. That everything on the page is crap.

The thing to do is reverse the expectation. To not worry about the first word. It’s just a word. Does it really have that much power over you? The sooner it goes down on the page, the better. A blank page does you no good. Don’t worry about the content, but the act. Get writing.

So why don’t you sit down right now, pull out pen and paper, or your lap top. Give yourself five minutes. Write a monologue about a scar. (Either the character has a scar, or is looking at someone with a scar or maybe it’s from the scar’s perspective.) If you get stuck, write about that. Keep the pen moving the whole time. Ready? Go.

About the author

Lindsay Price

1 Comment

  • Thanks for the mention, but thanks even more for the piece above. This is something every writer, no matter how long he or she has been at it, needs to read repeatedly. Someone asked Elmore Leonard whether, after 56(!) novels, it had gotten any easier. He said, “No, because we get harder to please.” I’m presently 38,000 words into my tenth novel, and here I am writing to you when I opened the computer to write the day’s first word.

    I love the notion that it doesn’t matter what the word is. There’s a guy named Yoji Yamada, who’s had 100 screenplays produced (and directed a bunch of them), who says, when the inspiration is hard to find: “Sometimes it’s necessary to make the leap and grow your wings on the way down.”

    I love that line. And I think I’ll start writing now.