So, you’ve researched a bit, conceived some ideas, and worked out a little outline for yourself, but now it’s time to write the first draft. I enjoy writing, but it can be quite tough to get started. Sometimes, I get so stymied that my fingers stop moving. My brain will work furiously, spitting out fragmented ideas and random parts of a sentence, but none of them lead to anything worthwhile. Procrastination rears its ugly head, followed by nagging deadlines and the familiar devil called cramming.
Hopefully some of you readers are major procrastinators too, or else there is no point in me writing this piece. Just kidding. But in any case, if you recognize this problem in yourself, know that all hope is not lost.
For me, the first sentence is always the hardest. It decides my subject, my tone, my direction, and other critical elements of a piece of writing. How do I get past the first sentence? My solution is to treat it no differently from other sentences. Don’t attach so much importance to it. If you give it too much prominence and elevate it above the rest, you will inevitably be dragged down by the formidable gravity of the task and become unable to write. Jot down a rough idea and use it as a starting point. Don’t get all hung up on the exact wording or specific direction, since you can refine it later during the editing process.
This leads me to my second point: perfectionism is a hindrance. I tend to do this often, typing and deleting and retyping so much that, by the time I get the part just right, I already forgot my point. I spend another few minutes trying to remember and failing to do so, and then I end up deleting what I just wrote. I find it easier if, at least for the first draft, I set aside that inner fussbudget and get all my thoughts down. Even if none of my ideas seem particularly great, writing down one idea can help trigger a spark of inspiration that will shape the entire piece.
Third, free-write. Getting my feelings and thoughts at a particular moment on paper/the computer screen is truly an effective method of getting warmed up to writing. Don’t be afraid to stray from your outline, either, since the best ideas can come in the act of writing.
Finally, make a detailed schedule and plan well. Divide and conquer, as the saying goes. By cutting up a big goal into manageable bits, you’ll feel free to write with less pressure. Set aside a generous window of time for writing because there is (almost) nothing worse for a writer than being interrupted in the middle of a focused and productive writing session. You might lose a great insight or, god forbid, your motivation. This strategy requires diligence, but it helps cut down on the dreaded rush right before a deadline.
This is not an exhaustive list of strategies to overcome the hesitation to write the first draft. However, these are goals that I have set for myself in order to develop as a better writer – as well as to (fingers crossed!) catch up on much-needed sleep.