Afraid to Write? Here's how to Start

On a weekly basis, people tell me they want to write a book, blog, or article.  Yet, they can't seem to get themselves to actually write.

I get it, I just recently posted my 50th blog a week or so ago and I understand the apprehensions with writing.

  • What will I write about? 
  • Will anyone read what I write? 
  • Oh crap, what if they do read it and it's not any good?  

Writing is one of those things in life that can be equally terrifying and satisfying at the same time.

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
—George Orwell

Sometimes I wonder if the desire to write is a blessing or a curse.  Yet for most of us, we should write for practical reasons.  

First, you are an expert at something.  From a professional viewpoint, your career experience holds real-life insights and advice that others desperately want to know.  When I read a blog by someone who is great at their job, I am not searching for grammar, style, and "perfect" writing. I am embracing wisdom and knowledge that will allow me to do my job better.

Second, writing builds your personal brand.  Writing on a theme consistently opens doors that would have never appeared unless some random person read your blog, article, e-book, or printed material.

Third, we are all writers.  Think about it, how many emails, text/Slack messages, pings, and social media posts do you write a day?  The answer is likely more than you think.  

In our digital age we have all become writers, why not become a better writer and produce material that has lasting value to others?

If I have convinced you to write then read ahead for a 5-minute exercise on how to get started writing. 

How to Start Writing 

When I was in high school I would go to Barnes and Nobles weekly for a creative writing workshop.  The group was made of 10-12 people who enjoyed writing and I was about 20-40 years younger than everyone.  During these workshops, I learned a 5-minute exercise that I continue to practice to this day.

Specifically, this exercise is when you want to begin writing but don't know how to start.  

Step 1: choose your topic 

What are you going to write about?  Choose your topic, this could be anything.  Do you want to write about business, fashion, food, books you have read, the best unknown places in your city, or something else?

Once you have your topic, write it at the top of your piece of paper/digital document.

Step 2: set a timer for 5-minutes

Set a timer for 5-minutes and no more.  You are going to write for 5-minutes straight.  Do not get distracted and keep your attention on the topic.

Step 3: begin to write and don't stop

Here is the key that most people miss.  Don't stop writing.  After the timer begins just write whatever comes to mind on your topic.  If you reach a standstill and don't know what to write then simply type/write the alphabet.  Seriously, write/type:

abcdefghij . . . 

This will give your mind the chance to think while you keep the motions of writing going.  You will be shocked that once you get about half-way trough the alphabet more sentences will start to flow.  Also, do not worry about grammar, style, context, etc.  The value of the exercise is to continually write without stopping.

Step 4: review what you wrote

When your timer goes off, stop!  Even if you are in mid-sentence.  Take a few minutes to review what you wrote and highlight valuable ideas, sentences, overall topics, and really anything that reads well.  Now you have your baseline material.

Step 5: outline your longer piece

Take the valuable items from step 4 and create a coherent outline.  During your 5-minute exercise, what you produce will not be fluid but there will be great points.  Take those items and build out an outline that makes sense to the reader, i.e. start with a good introduction, add in your main points, and close strong.

Step 6: fill in your outline

Storytime: when I taught at the University of Houston my students would be shocked when they looked at the syllabus during the first class as they would see their first assignment: "write a research outline."  

Students would ask why I assigned an outline instead of an essay, the answer is simple.  If you can't write an outline, you can't write an essay.  They would push back and say they have written essays for years.

My response was always the same, "great, then an outline will be easy."  I did this because I wanted to make my students better writers by teaching them fundamentals.

First comes the ideas (5-minute exercise), then the structure (outline), and then the final product (essay).  

You should do the same, take the time to write your ideas, then outline how to present them, and finally the final piece.

Summary

I have used the above technique for 16 years!  It works.  

Writing is not as difficult as most think, the key is simply to start.  Use the above exercise to get your ideas down and then work through what you have written to build longer articles, blogs, books, and more.

You will be surprised at the quality of what you can write.  Then the next step is to be consistent and keep writing.  Doing so will allow you to stand out and eventually become a thought-leader on the topic you consistently write about.

If you are interested in more detail to the above steps feel free to contact me.

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Matt Avery