1. Take Notes
Lots of them. All the time. Then, when you finally sit down to write, you already have words to work with.
2. Talk it Out
Start blabbing out loud. If you haven’t yet written anything, tell someone (even if it’s your cat) what you want your writing to say. Or, if you have some words on paper, read it out loud to yourself. It’s the same as looking at a painting from another angle…you start “seeing” things you didn’t before.
3. Write Sloppy, Edit Clean
When it comes to a first draft, put down any words that run through your mind. Even if it has nothing to do with the topic at hand. I’ve started art reviews with, “Holy shit I don’t know what the hell I’m going to say about this and I thought this would be easier because I really liked the show but why? why? why?” etc. Once you remove the fear of writing the wrong words, you’ll keep writing until you get the right ones.
And then edit out the evidence of your messy process (very important).
4. Feel the Burn
Writing is hard. Like, really hard. Sometimes, it actually hurts. It’s just like exercise…if you’re feeling the burn, you’re probably doing it right. The only thing that gets better with time is how you cope with the pain. Because it never goes away.
5. Embrace Procrastination
During my first year writing professionally, I’d spend the seven days leading up to a deadline emotionally abusing myself for not writing ahead of schedule. By the time it was the evening before a deadline, I was so worked up with self-imposed anxiety, I couldn’t even see the words I was trying to type.
Commit to a start time that butts up to your deadline and stop feeling guilty. (I usually started at 8 p.m. for a 9 a.m. next-day, 1,000-word deadline and figured if I got really stumped, I’d just stay up all night.)
6. Say Goodbye
Each time I write a fantastic first sentence, I know I’m going to have to cut it later.
Typically, if the piece ends in the same place I started (in other words, if that first sentence still makes sense after I’ve written 1,000 more words that should explore the concept further), it usually means I haven’t pushed hard enough. Yes, it hurts to cut a good sentence but…see #4.
7. Take a Shower
You can afford the five minutes it takes for a quick rinse. This solitary activity allows your mind to wander quietly without the glowing screen of your laptop burning into your eyes. If nothing else, you’ll feel nice and clean when you have to get back to the Hell that awaits you.
Sooner or later, you have to decide the piece is done. Editing yourself into oblivion means your hesitation will translate to the reader. Then they’ll stop reading. How do I commit? I force myself (see #5).
9. [Try to] Accept Criticism
If you’ve signed up for a project, career, or life’s work that involves creating things and then putting those things (articles, books, songs, paintings, etc.) out in the world for others to experience, know that people are going to hate it. Some will love it, sure, but receiving criticism (and, occasionally, an online comment in which somewhat might refer to you as a troll) comes with the territory.
The only way you can truly avoid this is to quit. And that’s not what you want to do, is it?
10. Make Conversation
You have a voice and you know how to put it in writing. Congratulations. Unfortunately, this does not mean you have the final word. You’re just one piece of a large conversation among other thinking people. And this is where #9 comes in.