I have an essay due, but I can't seem to get started writing. The deadline is approaching, and I just seem to sit and stare at a blank computer screen. Help!
As editor of Rockwell's International's bi-monthly newsletter, my responsibility was to plan and assign story ideas, edit all the articles in each issue, design the publication and write a few articles myself. This particular afternoon, sitting at my desk, fingers poised above the keyboard, I glanced nervously at the clock on the wall. One-fifteen... And counting... The current issue was due at the printer that afternoon, and I still needed to write about 500 words to fill a space on the second page.
I cautiously typed a few tentative words, then quickly tap, tap, tapped the backspace key, erasing what I had just written. I tried again and again with the same results. Eventually, laboriously, painstakingly, I managed at last to punch out a complete sentence. Yes! But again, unsatisfied, I hit the backspace key until only a blinking cursor stared back at me. For what seemed like two hours this same process went on. What was going on? Why weren't the words coming? Why was this such a gruelingly slow process? After all, I wasn't new to the writing process. In fact, I'd been writing for years. After several more aborted attempts, I had a "Eureka!" experience. I realized that the words were not coming because--duh!--I was not prepared to write. I hadn't done my "homework." I hadn't conducted any interviews. I hadn't done any research. I realized then that I had foolishly expected golden, perfect, mellifluous words to spring from my keyboard without effort, without preparation, and without really preparing myself to write. I quickly picked up the phone, called a few key people who had information related to my story, jotted a few notes, made a quick outline, and pounded out the requisite number of words to complete that issue of the newsletter.
As I dropped off the computer disk containing the completed issue at the printer's shop, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had learned a valuable lesson about the importance of preparation in the writing process and that, no matter how proficient a writer I thought I was, even I could not circumvent the type of planning necessary to produce organized, readable, prose.
At the outset of a writing project (e.g., the above example), it is sometimes difficult to know where to begin. As many writers do (and as I did that day at my desk), you might wonder, "Where do I start? How do I get going?" If the writing project you are working on is substantial (or perhaps even if it is modest) anxiety and frustration can develop, especially if you start to feel "writer's block" coming on. Let me assure you that this is a normal part of the writing process, and all writers must, at some point, come to terms with (and conquer!) the blank page. The good news is that there are very specific methods that you can use to get yourself started and, ...