Write Like You Know How To Write

We’ve all been there. Finally settling down in front of the computer, we pull up the blank page, stare at it for a bit, daydream nervously about all the great things we want to relay in writing, then feel a rush of angst. We get up, get another cup of coffee, and come back hoping the word fairy had visited, but the page is still blank. How to start?

If you have something to say, remember, you’re the only one who can express it in a way that truly gives your ‘something’ a voice. Don’t be afraid of the color white; it’s only an empty page, an inanimate object, a clean slate.

Here’s some simple advice that works every time. When you know you have something you need to write, don’t fret.  Instead, just open up that empty page, type a title (don’t worry, you can change it later) and start typing anything that’s in your head. Don’t worry about grammar right now. Don’t worry about sentence structure. Don’t even worry about typos and misspellings. Just type your thoughts down in rapid fire, stream of consciousness style.

There. Don’t you already feel better? The page isn’t blank anymore. You’ve found a spot in the universe to place those that have been swimming around in your head for days.

Now, to make those thoughts come together in a convincing way, remember your ‘voice’. Be definitive, don’t sound like you’re unsure of what you’re saying, and watch your tenses. Stay in the present and use things like ‘will’ instead of ‘would’ and ‘can’ instead of ‘could’. I know you can see which is most convincing already – just remember, be confident and you’ll sound confident.

These days, we’re all expected to be good writers. It can be intimidating, it’s true, for a lot of people; so remember, you’re not alone. There are plenty of ‘nervous’ writers out there with memories of diagramming sentences in junior high and feeling lost and resentful of their haughty English teacher. Here are some great resources and a couple of books that can prevent you from breaking out in hives every time you have a writing project ahead of you, no matter the size.

1 – www.grammar.quickanddirtytricks.com – The Grammar Girl will help you with, you guessed it, your grammar quandaries.

2 – The New York Times has a great column every Sunday called “After Deadline” – check it out.

3 – Believe it or not, Stephen King wrote one of the best books on writing that I’ve ever read. And it’s titled aptly “On Writing”. Seriously, even non-writer types will love it.

4 – Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style” is a good old stand-by. Keep a copy at your desk; you’ll be glad you did.

Finally, remember that less is more. Let me say this again. Less is more. Do not over-populate your page with too many words or, as an English professor once told me, be too married to the sound of your own voice. Be willing to self-edit and let go of things when they are awkward, too long, or just plain don’t work; even if you think they sound Pulitzer worthy. In your heart, you’ll know better. Now just do it. Blow it away in the wind and go on to the next sentence. Also, it’s a good idea to get someone else to read it before you finalize it.

Let me know how your next writing experience goes! I’d love to hear about it, and I’d be happy to give you advice along the way. After all, that’s why ThePRChannel crew is here.

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6 Responses

  1. Rob Reinauer says:

    Very good advice on how to get started writing something.
    Sometimes, ironically, its the topic areas where you have the most ideas running around in your head which are the hardest to get started on. As you point out, it’s actually easy to start capturing those individual, perhaps disassociated ideas if you just write them down without worrying about how to tie it all together. Just get the ideas all down and then you have the much more managable job of tying them appropriately to the story line you’re trying to create.
    If I might offer an addition to Christine’s advice.
    Its hugely useful to try to at least write the two or three sentence theme or storyline or high level purpose of the article first and have it at the top of the page to provide a bit of an ongoing focus. This of course, implies that it is even more hugely useful to actually have a clear idea for the theme and/or storyline before starting.

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Rob. I agree, it’s important to have a theme for your piece, and writing it down at the top of the page will serve two purposes: it will keep you focused on your purpose, and it will help you formulate that purpose clearly. Thanks again!

  3. Thomas Myer says:

    Another important thing I try to drill into baby writers (and hell, even experienced hands) is that creativity doesn’t just involve filling up a blank screen or page. It can also come from analyzing what someone else has created (either a thoughtful commentary or even a rant) or synthesizing a whole bunch of things together and presenting it in a useful way to your readers.

    Although this kind of stuff may not feel like creativity, it keeps you working and keeps the juices flowing. I find that the more I work, the better I work.

    • Christine Cox says:

      It’s so true. As you mentioned, Tom, when you spoke on Saturday, the more you write, the better you get at writing. It’s not an easy task, and many (I guess most) won’t be able to pull it off, even with the best of intentions. That’s why when in doubt, and when something important is riding on the result, I would advise HIRE a professional writer skilled in writing and in the art of persuasive writing!

  4. My favorite tip on beating the block is to imagine you’re talking to a good friend in an email. With that person in my head, I can really pour out what’s running around in my head. Once it’s all out, then I go back and edit. Which brings me to my second tip: don’t stop to edit.

    • Christine Cox says:

      Julie – great insight – something I learned in college in broadcast journalism classes was that when you are being interviewed on camera you should pretend you’re in your living room talking to a friend across the room – the camera is your friend! Applies to writing as well – the blank page is your friend. Honest it is!

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