Often, I find that people want to talk to me about writing because I’m the only person they’re close to who they consider a bona fide writer. (And here’s where I’ll admit that in my more insecure moments, I sometimes question the bona fide-ness of my work.)
Quality questions aside, writing comes naturally to me, but even those of us who do this for a living sometimes struggle to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, and I think most of us doubt our own abilities to some extent. Nevertheless, I enjoy writing — I have something to say, and I think some of you do, too.
The process is what I want to talk to you about here. This column is for those of you who are staring at a blank document, unable to write the intro paragraph of your memoir, or others who would like to draft an important letter but can’t quite find the words. Still others of you might need to promote your company online or update a resume.
Here are a few practices I fall back on that help me cruise around the orange and white gates marked “writer’s block” that occasionally rear up in my mind.
Start with the meatiest material, and don’t get caught up in writing paragraphs in order. Instead, let the words flow and then take time to organize.
I often skip my introductory paragraph. (In news writing, outside of editorial material, we call this first portion the lede. With essays, it’s called the thesis.) If the lede’s not rolling easily, I go straight to the part of the piece I want to write. Maybe I have a certain phrase on my mind, or I want to describe a particular scene. Once the words are flowing and my mental muscles are loosened, I find it easier to circle back and plug in essential portions.
Use a dictionary. If you do choose to soup up your word choice, make sure you know exactly what those new words mean. I cringe thinking back on times as a young reporter when I misused terms I didn’t fully understand. I like to give myself a little grace and file those mistakes under “reader forgiveness,” a heading of which I’m fond.
Use a thesaurus. Unique words help in illustrating vibrant, authentic-feeling scenes. If I can’t think of a term that feels right, I plug a more simplified version into Google followed by “synonym.” A superfluity (Ya like that? Got it off Google) of options pops up, courtesy of online thesauri. (Actually, I didn’t even know the plural form of thesaurus. Just Googled it. Boom.)
Don’t get caught up in perfecting your grammar usage. It will block your creative process.
There’s a reason I have the arcane phrase “fluent in AP and Chicago styles” on my resume: I’ve chosen to do this for a living. Most folks aren’t going to know where an Oxford comma is appropriate. Nor should they. If the work is something you’re planning to distribute, get your thoughts down on paper and then retain a professional editor to give it a look when it’s done. It will be worth the money and peace of mind, and you can feel free to move ahead with the storytelling aspect of your project.
Understand that your words matter. Eliminate the phrase “I’m not a writer” from your lexicon.
If you can form letters on paper, you are indeed a writer, and the way the process comes out of you really doesn’t matter. It’s about saying what needs to be said, and your words might make a difference in someone’s life now or long after your time on earth is over. There’s no formal definition for “writer,” and I believe anyone who has something to say can be one.
Now that you’ve heard my take on writing, please know you have my encouragement and support in whatever project you’ve got on the back burner. If you don’t write regularly, I think you’ll find that once you get started on a project, it will flow somewhat.
If you don’t have a specific endeavor in mind, journaling is a great way to get your mind limber as there’s no pressure or deadline. Good luck, and email me if you need help or ideas.