Friday, 18 March 2011

Writing tip of the day: Get started!

If you want to write something, you need to make a start. It sounds so obvious, but in practice it’s not always so easy. We all lead busy lives. There are a million things calling for our attention, and when they’re not calling, sometimes all we want to do is collapse on the sofa and veg out. Writing requires us to do something, to make an effort, and sometimes that hill we need to climb can seem insurmountable.

And then there’s that big ugly word: procrastination. You want to write. You have a made a conscious decision that you will write. But maybe not just yet. You need to check Twitter first. And your email. And Facebook. And you haven’t played a game of computer solitaire in a while. And... hell, where did that time go? Your favourite TV programme is about to start, so now there’s no point in writing anything. Okay, we’ll do it tomorrow.

I’ve been to a couple of talks given by the great Colin Dexter, author of the Inspector Morse books. (I had lunch with him at a writers’ conference too, but I’m sure he won’t remember). If you haven’t read his books, you should: he has a wonderful mastery of the English language. He introduced me to a fabulous word – boustrophedon (I’ll leave you to look it up). He also introduced me to a famous Latin proverb – initium est dimidium facti, meaning ‘the beginning is one half of the deed.’ It’s a phrase I used to have running across my computer monitor as a screensaver, reminding me that if I can just make a start on whatever project I’m working on, I’m really almost there.

So, do you want to write? Then here’s what you should do. As soon as you get to the end of this blog post, open up Word or Notepad or your favourite word processor and start typing. Don’t be tempted to start up a web browser or an email client first. Don’t go and make a cup of tea to prepare yourself. You don’t need preparation. Open up that word processor and write. Doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you write something. Doesn’t matter how long you write for either. A minute, ten minutes, half an hour – it’s all good. Quality isn’t important here. Resist the temptation to go back over your prose and polish it. Just keep writing, for as long as you feel able. Because then you’ll have something. Something you can fix later. Or maybe just something that gives you ideas for a better piece next time. Whatever you write, it’s never wasted.

And you’ll have written. Which will make you the writer you often said you would like to be.

Go ahead, give it a try. And post a reply here to let me know how you did.


  1. Hi David - congratulations again on the publication of Pariah and on your blog.

    Your advice is very similar to the advice I usually give when asked what you need to do to get published. My second piece of advice, by the way, is that you then have to send it off to somebody, since publishers rarely break into writers houses to check their hard drives - one of the most difficult things for a writer is sometimes to admit that the book is finished and to let go of it.

    Good story about Colin Dexter - a really great speaker and very amusing.

  2. Hi Len. Good to hear from you.
    I agree with you entirely about getting the stuff out there. It's something I intend to tackle in a future post.
    I've heard great things about your books, by the way. If I can do half as well as you (and many of the other Macmillan New Writers) I'll be a very happy man.