Oh, the very real fear of beginning a writing assignment. Whether it's a paper, short story, poem, or even an email to a friend, sometimes writing that first sentence can be an extremely daunting task. How many of you have reread a Facebook post you've been constructing over and over before you finally sold youreslf on the grammar, and posted it? Or an email? Or text? What about larger things? Have you ever sat down with all the inspiration in the world, but felt like that blank sheet of paper, or that glowing white computer screen just sits there mocking you, daring you to write on its clean, blank slate? This simple, first step can be one of the most difficult to take for the writer.
After being advised by a friend and previous professor of mine, Jonathan Pennington, to "take up and read" Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, I have - and it has not disappointed! I stumbled upon this excerpt today, and thought it encouraging for any person struggeling with exactly "how to begin" writing.
“But how?” my students ask. “How do you actually do it?” You sit down, I say. You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. So you sit down at, say, nine every morning, or ten every night. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on your computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first... You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind—a scene, a locale, a character, whatever—and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind. The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgment, doom, guilt. Also, severe hypochondria. There may be a Nurse Ratched–like listing of things that must be done right this moment: foods that must come out of the freezer, appointments that must be canceled or made, hairs that must be tweezed. But you hold an imaginary gun to your head and make yourself stay at the desk. There is a vague pain at the base of your neck. It crosses your mind that you have meningitis. Then the phone rings and you look up at the ceiling with fury, summon every ounce of noblesse oblige, and answer the call politely, with maybe just the merest hint of irritation. The caller asks if you’re working, and you say yeah, because you are. Yet somehow in the face of all this, you clear a space for the writing voice, hacking away at the others with machetes, and you begin to compose sentences. You begin to string words together like beads to tell a story. You are desperate to communicate, to edify or entertain, to preserve moments of grace or joy or transcendence, to make real or imagined events come alive. But you cannot will this to happen. It is a matter of persistence and faith and hard work. So you might as well just go ahead and get started. - Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird)
I personally took solace in this, now knowing that I'm not alone in my scatter-brained, self-distracting ways. Knowing that, like a marathon, it's not about having the right "muscles" at first, as much as it's about pushing through the laziness. Maybe this helps. Maybe it doesn't. But I am interested in what works for you when writing? Maybe you don't write, but it's something else that causes you to empathize here. I'd love to hear how you persevere. As I was blessed to be reminded through Lamott that I'm not isolated on some island regarding my reluctancy to start a project, I believe that it's important for others to hear from others. So, please feel free to comment below, and potentially help someone begin the project that they're passionate about!