I’ve been out of school for…well…let’s say a number of years now, but I can still, STILL recall that horrifying sensation of walking into school that first day in September.
You’re wearing new clothes that aren’t quite comfortable yet. You’re carrying a backpack full of recently sharpened pencils and notebooks with no marks in them. You haven’t spotted your friends yet, and you’re trying to be casual and friendly and cool. But not in a way that looks like you actually care about being casual or friendly or cool.
It’s sort of exciting, but sort of awful.
When you’re starting any new project, whether it’s a blog or a paper or the dreaded college essay, you often have these same mixed-up feelings. You consider all of the possibilities as you stare at your blank computer screen, but you ‘re afraid to actually commit to any one of them. Which idea is the best? Which will cause you the least grief? Which will get you into your dream school and change the course of your life forever?
First of all, take a deep breath.
Everyone goes through the same thing.
I often talk people off a ledge when they’re trying to start a new project. Heck, I often have to talk myself off a ledge. Starting anything new is not easy, people. So how can you start writing with no pain and a lot of gain?
1. Find the fun.
Think about your assignment (even if it’s self-imposed) and ask yourself this very important question: “What can I write about that will be fun for me?” If you’re having fun writing, your reader will have fun reading. No need to write anything down yet. Just let ideas roll around your brain for a bit.
2. Come up with a list of possible topics.
Write down—yes, actually write down—3 to 5 possible ideas for what you want to continue writing about. Why should you actually write those ideas down? Because it is super incredibly easy to forget a brilliant idea, even if you swear you won’t. And don't worry--you're not committing to anything yet. Stare at your list and consider each possibility. Then give your brain a rest and walk away from your list and watch one episode of House Hunters, or whatever show floats your boat.
3. Scribble a few phrases or sentences about each topic.
Take a look at your list, and think about each idea for at least two minutes. If you were to select that idea, what would you include in your writing? Take notes on your ideas, doodle your thoughts, or even try writing an intro sentence for each topic. If you don’t have much to say about a topic, cross it off your list.
4. Pick a winner.
Look at everything you’ve written down and compare all the ideas. Which idea excites you? Which idea makes you want to write more? If you were pitching these ideas to the Sharks on Shark Tank, which idea would they invest in?
If you’ve done all these steps and you’re still confused, show your ideas to a super smart friend (or a writing coach like me). Talk each idea through separately, and ask which topic your friend would want to read more about. But don’t forget that you actually have to do the writing, so write about a topic that you can’t wait to share.
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