Let’s Talk About Writing: Getting Started

Writing has never come easy for me. If the words flow freely, they are almost always the wrong words. Part of the trouble is that I never really learned grammar in elementary school, but I read enough that I could hide it. Or perhaps the issue is translating what’s in my head to the paper.

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Whatever the reason, I’ve had to do my fair of writing anyways and I’ve developed a few strategies that seem to help. Dare I say, I’ve grown to actually enjoy the grind? Weird, I know. 

To use a metaphor from one of my favorite hobbies, in baseball it’s accepted knowledge that the best hitting coaches were only mediocre hitters themselves. It makes sense – if you are fantastic at something and it comes naturally, it’s really hard to help others achieve that talent.

Now, I’m no hitting coach and I don’t fancy myself a writing coach either, but if I’ve struggled with something, chances are others have too. So I thought I would start a series, “Let’s Talk About Writing,” and share some of the ideas that help me.

Today’s topic – getting started. I’ve always HATED beginnings. Introductions, topic sentences, beginnings of conclusions. They are the worst. Recently I’ve noticed my objection to beginnings is not so much writing the entire paragraph, but the pressure that comes along with it. Trying to find the right words to begin is just too hard sometimes. So instead, I like to give myself a running start. Think of yourself as this goat.

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In order to make it over the back of his brother, the goat needs a little bit of a head start before making the leap. The same is true with writing. Here’s how it works. Let’s say I’m writing a paragraph on the Citizen Genêt Crisis and the cabinet meeting Washington convened on November 18, 1793. I know the chapter or essay needs this paragraph, I’m just not sure how to write it or I feel stuck.

So I write, “something about the Genêt crisis and the November 18 cabinet meeting and how the secretaries debated whether to banish Genêt from U.S. borders.” Then I’ll include a few notes about what else the paragraph should include. For example, “cabinet meeting important because family dinner took place in the middle of debates; Washington distraught that TJ and AH couldn’t come to an agreement; considered taking major step of banishing a foreign minister -> Jefferson convinced this step could lead to war.” Obviously these aren’t complete sentences, but they are my own shorthand that will remind me what I want to say when I return to this trouble section.

This trick might sound silly, but more often than not, once I give myself permission to come back to a section by saying “something about x,” the writing actually flows. Usually I’m able to draft my paragraph quickly based on these notes and then go back and create the topic sentence. Once I know what the paragraph says, the pressure is off and it’s much easier for me to introduce it forcefully.

The same things works for me with introductions and conclusions. I’ll make a bunch of notes about what I want to include in those sections and then start writing from the middle and work my way out from there.

Hope this helps some of you guys when you are stuck on a trouble section or paragraph! Do you have any favorite writing tips? I’m always looking to improve, so I welcome your ideas.


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