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Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Seven ways to start and keep your writing going

Beginnings are tough. But if we’d only get started, our marks and words on the page can bootstrap our next moves. Marks and words on the page feed what in neuroscience is called our brain’s “perception-action” cycle. Through this biologically fundamental mechanism, we repeatedly act on the world, and then look to see what our actions have wrought in the world. The world talks back to us, telling us how close we are, or how far we are, from what we’d hoped to achieve (our goals).

Once the words are on the page or on the screen, they’re physical objects (out there in the environment) that we can see and move. Now we’ve embarked on a three-way conversation of mind-brain-environment. We’re in a making-finding cycle, in which we are partnered with the world, rather than being isolated in our own head.

The continuing cycle of making and finding.
The continuing cycle of making and finding.

By taking tangible actions in pursuit of our creative goals (making) we promote informative and sometimes surprising discoveries (finding). We can nudge and noodle and rearrange. The shapes and sounds of the letters, the syllables, the words and phrases, become tangible things that we can structure and connect, or even set aside.

But we need to make the first move — and again and again each time we try to resume our writing. So how do we do that? Here are seven pointers:

  1. Don’t wait for inspiration (or perfection). Make writing a varied but stubborn habit. Start anywhere: beginning, middle, end, or revising what you wrote the day before.
  2. Sneak up on writing; it doesn’t need a red carpet.
  3. Ask your body to help. Move and keep moving through space — a walk can work wonders.
  4. If you’re stuck, explain to a kindred spirit where you are and where you’re headed. Or back-up one or several steps, and closely resurvey the options.
  5. Capture your emerging thoughts right away. Preserve and periodically reshuffle your growing treasure trove of ideas. They may be starting points for a new chapter, a new episode, or a plot turn.
  6. Mind and mine the details. As Leonard Cohen observes, we seem to have an appetite for detail. But be judicious or, as Alice Munro notes, those details can become “too much of a weight.”
  7. Be purposeful, but not overly single-minded. Experiment, experiment, experiment. In the words of Margaret Atwood: “I have no foolproof anything. There’s nothing foolproof.”

Featured image: Writing on keyboard. CC0 via Pexels.

Recent Comments

  1. Brooke McIntyre

    Great points overall. I especially relate to the suggestion to get things down right away. It’s too easy to forget “that really brilliant thought” with all that’s going on.

    Building on your point of making writing a habit, you can mark a calendar with the days you’ve sat down to write. The visual reference can be really motivating.

    Do this on a physical calendar, or take a look at a new app that my startup has just released. You can track your word counts and writing time by each project and stay with it till completion. You can also use the app’s calendar to track writing days or monthly/daily writing goals. To learn more about it: https://www.inkedvoices.com/inkon/

  2. Bev

    Great post. I agree with all your comments, but I especially like the first two – make writing a varied but stubborn habit, and sneak up on it. going to try both.Thanks.

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