I hate blank computer screens. Every time I start a new project, I get nervous. The negative buzz in my head takes over for a minute: what to say? where to start? I sit, waiting for inspiration to strike. It’s at these times I’m often overcome with an immediate urge to organize my supply cabinet…sort through invoices…something, anything, that suddenly sounds more attractive than sitting in front of a blank computer screen!
As a professional writer, however, this is not good. My clients do prefer that I actually finish their projects before they pay me, so I’ve had to find ways to get myself started on new projects. Below are three simple tips that have helped me boost my productivity tremendously. I hope they help you, too.
1. Give yourself 30 minutes.
Set a kitchen timer for 30 minutes. Promise yourself that at the end of that 30 minutes, you will get up from your desk and take at least a five minute break. But also promise yourself that by the end of that 30 minutes, you’ll have written something. It doesn’t have to be genius; heck, it doesn’t even have to be good. But it has to be something.
This takes a lot of pressure off me. Thirty minutes isn’t that long. I can do just about anything for only 30 minutes. I relax a little, because I know I’m not going to have to sit at my computer for hours on end. And relaxing helps the words flow a little easier.
But this also puts a tiny bit of pressure back on me, which is also good. I’m a procrastinator, and deadlines inspire me to work hard – even 30-minute deadlines. So knowing I get to take a break in 30 minutes, but also knowing that I have to have produced at least something, no matter how shabby, gives me just the right balance of ease and tension that helps me get a project started.
2. Skip the beginning.
Do you ever find the first sentence the hardest to write? There’s a lot riding on that first sentence; it has to be brilliant to catch the reader’s interest, suspenseful to get the reader to continue reading, as well as factually correct, consistent in tone with the rest of the project, etc. Writing that first sentence often makes me freeze up. So skip it altogether. Instead, start in the middle.
Think about what you know for sure that you want to say, and start there. That might be the third sentence, or it might be the third paragraph – it doesn’t matter. The point is, just start writing, regardless of where it fits in the overall picture. Once your juices start flowing, you’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to go back and add the first parts later.
3. Write a lousy first draft.
Sometimes, the problem is that we expect too much of ourselves.
Did you know J.K. Rowling wrote ten drafts of Chapter 1 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Now, I think I’m a fairly decent writer, but I’m no J.K. Rowling. I’ve never written a book that has changed children’s literature forever, like the Harry Potter series has, and I’m certainly not one of the richest women in the world, like that same series made Ms. Rowling. So if she admits it took her ten tries to get the first chapter of her first book right, why on earth would I expect to get my project right the first time?
I hereby give you permission to write an absolutely horrible first draft. Don’t be afraid of it – embrace it! You just might find that the editing process is easier than the writing process. And that’s the beauty of today’s technology – it is so incredibly easy to go back and fix all the stupid things we’ve written, that there’s no excuse not to write stupid things. Especially if it makes the difference between not writing at all.
So go ahead. Take the pressure off to write something perfect. Just write. You can always go back and fix it, and no one will ever know that you wrote a lousy first draft. Trust me, your second draft will sound much better. As will your third, and maybe even your fourth. But by that time, you’ll have done a whole lot of writing, and your problem won’t be that blank screen anymore, will it?
Happy writing, and good luck!