In a very meta way, I sit here struggling to write a piece, about how to write.
What I’ve learned from my school years and time being a literature student is that there is one way to definitively get your writing done.
Just to do it.
I distinctly remember 16-year-old me, struggling endlessly to find that one trick or life hack that was going to change my working habits. Chewing a special gum, spraying perfume to help you concentrate. But the honest truth is that you have to pick up that pen (or keyboard) and gets words down on paper (or screen).
Saying this however, I do have some tips. This year I chose to do a creative writing module, which saw me for the first time having to write prose consistently with weekly progress deadlines. Not only was it step away from academic writing, it had the added pressure of being workshopped in a group setting. It was incredibly daunting, but after a while it really invigorated me into writing more and helped my academic productivity immensely. From writers’ block to apathy, these are my tips for getting it done:
1. It might be a bit rubbish, and that’s okay
Not everything you write is going to emulate *insert your favourite author*. Nor is it going to be the best thing you’ve written. A lot of it might not be very good, and I found this to be the most important thing. It’s common to get a bit embarrassed, I certainly felt that when writing creatively. Even academically sometimes, I found myself cringing and putting it off. Not only is it not as bad as you think, who is actually going to see it? Getting what you can written down can produce diamonds in piles of shit. You just have to sift through it.
2. Edit, re-write. Edit, re-write. Edit, re-write. (repeat to fade)
Picture this, me late on a Tuesday night tapping away diligently on a piece of writing. I’m pumped, it’s all flowing so well, throwing out metaphors and sophisticated language like I’m Oprah. Cut to Wednesday 11AM, in my seminar and horrified at having to share my incoherent babbling.
Time is essential. Give yourself some space and perspective. Even if that’s 10 minutes to make a cup of tea or go for a walk. When you come back, you might find that word you’ve been looking for or piece of criticism you’ve forgotten to include. Then do it again.
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3. Keep it simple
I found this especially useful for academic writing. It’s easy to get consumed by elevated language and attempts at sophistication. But really, it’s a fancy way of waffling. Start simple, how would you explain to someone with little knowledge on the topic. You can build sophistication on top of that but starting with the basic line of thought is incredibly helpful. Walter Pater, a man highly regarded for his incredible prose literally wrote out his point, then re wrote it on double spaced paper and slotted in extra clauses.
4. Build momentum
Start with something you’re excited to do. It might not be what you need to do most urgently. But I find once I’m in the headspace, the other work I have to do seems less exhausting. If I read a poem I enjoy, the forty-page essay on the intricacies of the genre it works in is a little easier to swallow. Same goes for writing.
5. Another set of eyes
Get your flat mate to read it, your mother, your dog. Potentially frustrating and a little cringy, but highly useful. Not just for proof reading, but for flaws in your style. I have a tendency to find a word I really like and therefore repeat endlessly, something another pair of eyes will point out for me. Also, it’s normally a little confidence boost!
There’s even more to say about how to write in terms of subject matter and topic, but that’s for another time. Here is a starting point, to get you out of the rut.
So, if you’re reading this for procrastination, stop it (finish reading first) and get going.