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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Start Writing: One word, one sentence, one book!

Whether you research before, in the middle, or after you write your book, whether you’re a plotter or a pantster, whether you work full-time or part-time, have two kids or five, no matter what your situation, you can’t write a book unless you grab a pen and paper and/or sit down in front of your computer and write.

This may sound silly, but for me, that’s the hardest part of writing a book: sitting down and writing. On some days I can think of a million things I’d rather do than sit at my computer. Suddenly, washing clothes and scrubbing dishes doesn’t sound so bad. But what I’ve learned over the years is that if I want to achieve my goals and dreams, I need to sit in that chair and write whenever possible. I’ve also learned that I have the most difficult time getting to the computer when I’m stuck…in other words, when the words aren’t flowing or the scene I’m writing isn’t working for me.

Sometimes I need to coax myself to the computer by giving myself permission to write just one word and then one sentence. Usually one sentence is enough to get me to finish a paragraph. After that, if I can turn off the internal editor and let the words flow, I can usually finish my five-page goal for the day within a few hours. Thinking about writing in manageable chunks can take the pressure off. Try it sometime. If you only have a thirty minute lunch break or twenty minutes before a child’s soccer game, give yourself permission to write one sentence. Who cares if it’s a bad sentence, because maybe that sentence will turn into a paragraph, or better yet, an entire page! It’s amazing what can be accomplished in fifteen minutes if you give yourself permission to write without that internal editor screaming in your ear. Next time you find yourself avoiding “the chair” tell yourself that you only have to write one sentence and see what happens.

Some writers don’t need any help at all getting to the computer. If that’s you then I’m jealous! And don’t get me wrong…I LOVE to write. It’s my passion, writing makes me feel whole, and yet sometimes I still struggle with getting started. Some writers set a timer to get going, some writers bribe themselves with chocolate or shopping sprees, some writers go straight from bed to the computer and don’t move until their pages are done for the day.

What do you do to get yourself to the computer? Do you have a daily ritual, or do you write at different times and different places each day? Are some days more difficult than others, or is it just me?



At 11:12 AM, Blogger Terry McLaughlin said...

Hi, Theresa :-)--

Wow, this post sounds familiar. I have a terrible time getting myself to open a file and get to work (getting myself in the chair is easy--getting myself off the Internet and on task is the hard part). Some days I sit here for hours, trying to think of something bad enough to threaten myself with. Usually a looming deadline does the trick, but not always :-(.

I've decided I don't have writer's block; I suffer from an odd strain of stage fright. I'm afraid I'll never think of another thing to write, and my career will be over.

But I LOVE your suggestion about typing just one word or one sentence. If I can get myself to start, I rarely have trouble continuing. It's getting over that first hurdle that's daunting.

One sentence...I'm going to try it! Thanks, Theresa :-).

At 11:21 AM, Blogger Cat Schield said...

Hi Theresa,
Today you hit on exactly what I've been struggling with. That reluctance to sit down and just do it. I love the idea of giving myself permission to do no more than write one word. If I can sit down and do that the rest should follow.

At 11:23 AM, Blogger KERRY ALLEN said...

There are days that suck so much life out of me, I don't have enough mental energy to stare at the TV, much less string words together coherently. For those days only, I cut myself some slack about the "write every day" mantra.

"Stuck" does seem to create an impenetrable forcefield around the computer, in which case I break out a pen and paper. The shift in method is often enough to un-gum the works.

It also helps me to have a "backup project" to shift to. It's rare to be stuck on both at the same time, and the problem with Project A usually works itself out in my subconscious by the time I get bogged down on Project B, so I can switch back without even breaking stride.

At 11:28 AM, Blogger Kendra Leigh Castle said...

Nope, it's not just you! I love to write too, but that initial sit-down of the day, no matter how far into the book I am, is always intimidating. I love your idea of looking at it in terms of the smallest pieces of the whole. Lots of days, even my five-page quota seems overwhelming at the outset, whether or not it ends up going smoothly. I've got the strain of stage fright Terry mentioned, for sure! And apart from continued self-medicating with chocolate, I'm going to give your way a try:-) Thanks!

At 11:53 AM, Blogger Caroline said...

Brilliant advice! But then, I would expect nothing less from you. Your keen words and encouragement have kept me writing for years! Thanks. I’m going to try this today and see how it helps. You hit the nail on the head about getting started---and that is exactly where I’ve been all week. A blank white page even makes the treadmill look inviting. A one word/one sentence goal is much more appealing.

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Hi Terry! Thanks for commenting. I always figured the looming deadline thing would be a perfect motivator...darn!

Cat, I'm glad you're going to try it!

Kerry, going from Project A to Project B does work for me too. And it is sort of strange how suddenly Project A is easier to come back to after you've dealt with Project B for a while. :)

At 12:27 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Kendra and Caroline, so glad you guys stopped by. Thanks!

Kendra, I know what you mean about the self medicating thing. If I don't hurry up and write that one word, I'll get up to get some hot tea and then a snack, and then I need something sweet, etc., etc.

Caroline, you give me too much credit, but thanks!

Okay, here I go...I'm going to go write one page before I will allow myself to come check this blog again. :)

At 12:40 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Seems like the better I write, the more I think, "If I can't come up with something that good today, then I'm wasting my time." There's a disconnect of logic there, because I also realize that first-draft stuff is just a start, and I love to revise. I do think getting in the habit of writing helps. Seems like there's always some new thing that disrupts the schedule. It used to be, "Entering this important contest is my priority." Now it's "Getting my press kit is my priority." And yet, I can see my future self saying, "If you'd just written three pages a day, you wouldn't be staring down the barrel of your second-book contract."

At 12:53 PM, Blogger Patricia W. said...

This was for me today. I decided just this morning, "Enough!" Enough procrastinating, enough research (see yesterday's post), enough meditative thought related to writing, enough...

The problem is I start out thinking let me get this email and blogging out of the way. A few hours later...

Today, if no other, I'm going to write.

At 1:29 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

I'm with you, Patricia. I opened my WIP and am reading through it to get back up to speed. I just won't do anything else until I write three pages every morning. Enough really is enough. Thank you, Theresa!

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

"And yet, I can see my future self saying, "If you'd just written three pages a day, you wouldn't be staring down the barrel of your second-book contract.""

Exactly, Esri. This is a great look at our future selves and see that disappointment in our faces if we don't do our daily or weekly count.

Yes, Patricia, this internet thing takes up too much time...unless we use it as a reward system. I just wrote two new pages, not great pages, but not bad either!

Everyone should write as much as possible today and then report back tonight! I expect a minimum of one sentence. Can you hear me cracking the whip in the distance?

At 3:00 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

It's not the disappointment I mind so much as the bowel-loosening terror. Yes, I hear your whip. Whup-ah!

At 4:32 PM, Blogger Mo H said...

Great advice! I wasted a little time today picking photos from Nutcracker performances for my daughter's ballet scrapbook. And the whole time I was doing it, I knew I should be writing. It's weird. Sometimes I have these to-do's I have to check off before the writing can begin. I've got to reverse that process!

At 7:08 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Okay, Theresa. I read my WIP to get back in it and wrote 3.5 pages. Tomorrow, I'll see if I can split my time between writing and promotion tasks. Thanks for being our cheerleader today!

At 7:29 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Maureen, that's exactly what I do...start with a to-do list every day instead of writing and pretty soon there's no time left in the day for writing.

Esri, good job on the 3.5 pages. I made my 5 page goal today too so I'm feeling good.

At 8:11 PM, Blogger doglady said...

Boy is this me in spades! I really needed to read this post. There are so many days I am just completely wrung out from work that I cannot make myself sit down and write. I feel like such a failure if I don't have five pages in me every night. Starting with just one sentence may just be the thing that gets me started and if not, I DO have that one sentence written at least!

At 9:38 PM, Blogger Katey Coffing, Ph.D. said...

EXCELLENT post, Theresa! You're right on target, and the mental trick you suggested really works--I use it, myself. :)

And I've noticed the hardest part for most of my clients is simply applying butt to chair, so yep, this problem is really common. Sometimes I suggest they open their manuscript to the last sentence they wrote and just stare at the screen for fifteen minutes. After that they're free to get up--but 99 times out of 100, faced with that last sentence (and boredom), they end up adding another sentence...then another, and another, and just like you said, things get exciting. Suddenly they're typing away (and wondering why they spent any energy avoiding the chair). So YAY to sitting in the chair and giving oneself permission to start small!

At 11:50 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Hi, Katey! I think we met at last year's RWA conference. Thanks for visiting! Katey is a life coach, specializing in writers.

At 11:24 AM, Blogger Katey Coffing, Ph.D. said...

Hi Esri! (waving) Yes, I think we met in Atlanta, and it was great fun sharing a table with you. :)

At 2:29 PM, Blogger happilycoupled said...

I was just reading about this same type of advice in Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird today. Natalie Goldberg dispenses the same advice. There is definitely a reason so many writers espouse this. It's comforting to a beginning writer to know that even prolific ones have writer's block now and then. Thanks for the inspiration, Terry!


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