Over the last year I’ve presented a number of writing workshops, and something I’m asked over and over again by budding authors is this: “How do I get what’s in my head out onto a page?”
I’ve always found this a fascinating question, because for me, it just happens, and very little thought process goes into making it so. But given the regularity of this question, I know that’s not the case for everyone. Much like writer’s block, this is a very real conundrum for a number of people, so I want to offer my advice in the hope that it might encourage some people.
The way I see it, there are three (main) things that can help turn your imagined-stories into written-stories:
First up, just like when it comes to writer’s block, we need to accept that writing is not always rainbows and butterflies; sometimes it’s purely a result of self-discipline. For me, writing is a complete joy 90% of the time , but 10% of the time it’s just plain hard work. There’s no easy way to say it: sometimes you just have to make yourself write—even if the result of that isn’t very ‘good’. It might be a total mess of words on a page, it might not even make sense. But if that idea in your head is ever going to get out of your head, then you need to start somewhere. Listen to the wisdom from Lao Tzu: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The same goes for writing: A story of a hundred thousand words begins with a single letter.
Secondly, gain a fresh perspective. Go for a walk, spend some time amongst nature, head to the beach, visit a friend—just get out of your house or office or wherever you’re normally confined with your laptop, and see what the rest of the world is doing. Experiencing a new environment will give you a boost of energy and get those endorphins running (even more so if you actually do something active like exercising), and it’ll clear the cobwebs from your mind enough that you’ll have more clarity when you sit down to write again.
Lastly, sometimes it helps to see your story play out like a movie across your mind, or like a script that a director would be following. If that’s the case, then write it down as it comes to you—words, impressions, sounds, sights, smells, whatever it is that you’re experiencing. Even if you just bullet-point your notes down, you can then go back and do these wonderful things call “fleshing out” and “editing”. (Authors everywhere rejoice at the power of these two writerly gems.) This final point kind of merges in with the first point, that being just to start writing. Because if you don’t start, you won’t start. (Sheer genius, right there.)
There are heaps of other things that can help, and it all depends on the kind of personality you have (for instance, some people might not be good in nature and you’d instead benefit from watching a television show, while others might be inspired from reading a wonderful book—both methods of which can also help with generalised writer’s block). But all in all, the most important thing is to find out what works for you—and to just start doing it.
To finish, I personally think the main reason writers struggle to get ideas out of their heads and onto pages is because they just don’t think they have the ability to harness words well enough to capture the entire “perfect” vision of their story. As writers, we are our own worst critics, and sometimes that can stop us in our tracks and keep us from trying to begin with. This makes me sad, because there are so many people out there with such incredible stories inside of them, but they don’t believe in themselves enough to have a crack at actually writing those stories. But my rebuttal to the argument of “I’m not a good enough writer yet” is simply this: “How will you ever become a “good enough” writer if you don’t take a risk and just start writing?”
You’ll never know if you never try. So dust off those writing caps, folks, and ignore the mess of where you might begin.
… Just begin.