Always wanted to write? How to get started
Ever fancied yourself as a writer, but got stuck at the actual writing stage? How can you move past that and begin to create blogs, books, poems, stories and features that people will want to read? We asked a professional writer for her advice.
How many times have you sat staring at a blank page or screen, willing yourself to throw some words out and form a coherent sentence? You know it’s in you somewhere to write, and would love to create stories for a living or blog as a sideline.
But while you may have knowledge to share or feelings to express, how do you actually start getting them out of you and onto a page? What exactly do you write about, and who will bother to read it?
If you lack the confidence to get started, don’t worry – you’re far from alone. So we asked freelance writer Natalie Smithson of Bobbin About to share her advice.
Find your ‘thing’
I’ve always had a unique view of the world – people have been subtly telling me so ever since I was a child. In fact, if I had a pound for every time somebody told me they ‘hadn’t thought of it that way before’, I’d be writing this from a hammock in Costa Rica.
But while an unorthodox view of the world may not be popular in the playground, in the real world I can hone in and embrace it. I even make a living out of it.
And you can too. If you dig deep, you’ll find your ‘thing’ – something you do that others can’t. Perhaps you lived an experience that makes you who you are today, have a unique viewpoint or voice, or are an expert on a niche topic.
Other people can’t imitate your unique gift, knowledge or experience, so learn how to use it and turn it in to a literary channel. Find your wavelength and the right audience will tune in.
Get past bad spelling
Whatever you decide to write, from books (blockbusters, best-sellers, award-winning, awe-inspiring, jaw-droppingly good books) to other creative outlets (short stories, blog posts, poetry, tweets), you’ll need to string words together to make sense – even if it’s only 140 characters.
And certainly good spelling and grammar helps if you’re a writer (“this aint a particlry good reed, no?”) but you don’t need to be the very best at both of these things right now.
If you’re writing a marketing piece for a business then a typo is never acceptable, but if you blog to raise awareness about a health issue then a misplaced apostrophe can be forgiven if the sentiment is there to overcome it. In fact, blogs can be popular just for their honesty, bravery, frequency or sheer stupidity – good or bad grammar aside.
Writing isn’t always scholarly, but if you want to be taken seriously you’ll find plenty of help on and offline to brush up on your spelling and grammar and avoid any distraction from your message.
Find your style
Finding the right style for your subject, niche or audience is important. Let’s say you want to start a blog. You might be a technical writer, more interested in the detail than the design, so getting your facts or measurements right is what your audience will start to trust in.
If you’re the founder of a charitable organisation and want to market your cause, your audience wants to feel part of your journey, so they’ll expect you to share your experiences as generously as they do their cash.
If you’re blogging about art, your audience wants pictures to accompany the words. And baking fans want regular recipes to try out – if you’re the one always cooking up a storm then it’s you they’ll follow.
So learn to give your audience what they want, but don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t get it right straight away. Over time, your style will become evident so don’t give up on it.
You may find a certain way of working or writing will keep on drawing you back to your place, the place you feel at home and where writing flows easily. When you get there, look around. You might surprise yourself with a dry humour that shines through or a knack for making sense of complex ideas. But whatever your style is, you won’t know until you start writing.
Make it happen
Nobody expects you to release The Complete Works of Your Writing tomorrow, but there comes a time when thinking has to become doing. No more poring over pocket journals and posh pens. And debating which blog host to use is immaterial – your words are what you make of them, regardless of which theme you frame them in.
Whatever you start with, it’s not set in stone. Creativity evolves. Your work will grow and change, just like you do. You’ll borrow from old stories that were cast aside and re-use ideas that didn’t fit the mould originally, but spring instantly to mind now. The important thing is to just write.
You can write anywhere, on anything, even if it’s only ideas etched on to your brain. Above all else, enjoy the process! Don’t flog yourself over it. When you write from the heart – from you – somebody out there will not only want to listen, they’ll love every word you write.
You’ll probably find they admire that unique thing about you that people have been remarking on since you were a child.
So, now you’ve read my advice and experience, it’s time to start creating your own. Pick one idea for a piece of writing – it could be a poem, a story, an outline for a book, a page of a website, or an open letter to your readers.
Then just start it. Don’t try and be great, or even good. Don’t judge what you write, just write. At first your words may be awkward and clunky. Your writing may meander and the results awful. Don’t worry, that’s quite normal.
Just keep writing and eventually something magical happens. If you persevere, you’ll stop thinking so much and start feeling. Your writing will become more instinctive, flow more easily and you’ll see the start of something you don’t quite hate as much. Maybe even like a little.
Writing is a process, a journey and the only way to get good at it is to start that journey. Like anything you start doing, you may not be great at it in the beginning, but if you practise you’ll get better. (Remember how difficult driving a car was the first time you sat behind the wheel?)
And the great thing is that nobody ever has to see what you write if you don’t want to share it. Just prove to yourself that you can do it.
To help you get started, I have a challenge. When I get to the end of my question, close your eyes and run with the very first thing that comes to mind: What will you write about today?