Why Writers Must Plunge In

firstdraftsbuttonFrustration radiating from her, a student seeking guidance on yet another essay wailed, “I’ve done all the research. I just don’t know how to start!”

I nodded sagely. “I’m going to let you in on a secret.”

After shooting around a few furtive glances, I moved in a bit closer for the revelation.

Everyone, including professional writers, has a hard time starting. The secret is we just fake it, just start writing something, and clean it up in revision.”

Yes, folks, at the risk of losing my standing in the Mysteries of Writing Guild, I tell you that beginning a project is one of the greatest hurdles any writer must overcome.  It’s just that practiced writers have learned to just start, prime the pump as it were.

The trap so many writers fall into, especially novice writers, is the idea their work should be perfect first time out.

No! No, I say! There’s a reason the Word Deities have allowed humans to invent the “delete” key! It’s called “revision.”

It is so hard to convince people that putting the effort into revising their writing actually makes life much easier. Students just want to “write it” and hand it in. (Hey, I was a student once. I did the same thing.)

Revision is more than a quality issue; it gives writers the license to write poorly. It strips away the pressure to be perfect. It locks away the mental editor poised with her blue pen and focuses on conjuring the raw diamonds of ideas.

Uninhibited, the literary mustang can be free to write whatever comes to mind only later corralling those thoughts into something organized and understandable by the reader.

So, when you’re faced with starting a writing project, think of the immortal words offered by Nike’s marketing department:

“Just do it!”


4 thoughts on “Why Writers Must Plunge In

  1. As a wise woman once said, “if you can’t figure out where to start, put your fingers on the keyboard and keep them there until the words start to flow.” I have, of course, improved the quote. Even when people speak, it does not come out perfect the first time.

    For those who hate the delete key, think about the people who had to retype and retype each version of a piece. The delete key is a gift we should all appreciate.


    • When I started my newspaper career, all we had were typewriters. I detested having to actually cut and paste with rubber cement. (It was so messy!) As a result, I disciplined myself to organize and write my stories in my head before I ever started typing. It’s a great skill to have, but there is no way I will ever give up my computer!

      Thanks for sharing!


  2. I used to mark my notes in my reporter’s notebook 1, 2, 3, etc., inverted pyramid style! What I hate is the blank Word document staring at me, so I start with formatting, a header, and saving it according to the publication’s submission guidelines. It really helps if I have made notes or at least have a photo as a jumping off point, then I just write! Revision, “killing my darlings,” comes later.


    • That’s a great tip! (“Of course, it only works if you can read your own handwriting,” she said sheepishly.) Writing out a working thesis can help, too, depending on what you’re writing. ANYTHING that gets us writers going is O.K. in my book!

      Thanks for the advice!


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