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4 Tips to Get Words on Paper

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at HWS chapter.

As someone who’s passionate about writing, I used to (and honestly still do) struggle daily to properly put pen to paper (or hand to keyboard, in this case). There’s something so terrifying about molding a fluid idea into a concrete piece that stops me in my tracks every single time. There’s so much internal pressure to bring the “perfect” vision to life that I could sit for hours agonizing over the perfect first line… For hours, there’s nothing being done at all! 

Unfortunately, this problem is fairly widespread. Most people struggle with some form of perfectionism at one point or another. After all, who wants to see their grand ideas take the writing equivalent of a nosedive into a volcano? But this desire for flawlessness brings a major pitfall — not only is our creation imperfect, it’s non-existent. You can’t polish something you don’t have! As painful as it may be, the only way I’ve found to solve this problem is by finding a way to forget writing well — only write, even if you write like you just learned how. Don’t know how to let go? Don’t worry, sometimes I still can’t! But with a little research and trial and error, I found four ways to get any words on paper, no matter what you’re writing.

Don’t penalize yourself for not being able to “just write”

If there’s one thing I absolutely hate reading in writing-related articles, it’s the term “just write.” Of course, that’s what we want- but if it was that simple, the power of that phrase would’ve moved me to write 10 novels by now! It’s like telling someone who’s angry to “calm down” in that it does more to frustrate than inspire and often has the opposite effect than intended. It gives no details on how you should “just write”, just insists that you should already know, and worse, implies that it’s a simple choice you make! It invalidates a genuine struggle with your inner self. It’s okay if you can’t “just write” at the flick of a switch. It’s going to take a little figuring out, but nothing is going to click because of two little words. So, whenever you see that phrase being used, definitely do not take it to heart. 

Try a New Space

Humans are creatures of habit. If we find something that we like, we stick with it to a fault. Too often, we try to hold on to things that become detrimental to our lifestyles just because we’re used to it. Listen, I know you like your room, but have you considered taking your writing project elsewhere? Sometimes, the key to writing new words is a new location. Staying in one place for two long with no changes creates monotony, which means that everything begins to drag on and blend together like a bad watercolor painting. Writing becomes a slog — our moods are lower, we’re less engaged and more than a little bored, making that place an overall unconducive environment to anything other than laying on the floor in utter meh-dom. But in moving away from that location, our mood and mindset can eclipse that slog, making the word flow not only easier, but much more pleasantly. While not always ideal, sometimes even sitting (or standing, if you want to be extreme) in a different spot can be just what you need.

Set a Time Limit

If you had all the time in the world to clean out your room, would you still do it right away? Maybe you’d start, but get distracted by an old toy lying around. Or, you’d sit there staring at piles of books, pondering where to begin. Honestly, most people probably wouldn’t start at all (if you have the drive to do anything without a time limit, I applaud you.). But, if you only had five minutes, I’d imagine you would break records with how fast you could shove everything into your closet. The same applies to writing: with no strict limit, there’s no pressure to begin, but with only five minutes, that blank page will be covered with words. A time limit is a motivator, it demands focus and commitment to an action without allowing any time for reversal. In other words, it forces you to write rather than simply think about writing, so set a timer and watch those words fly! Of course, if you require consequences to motivate you, there’s always the Danger Notes app to delete your work if you stop writing while the timer is still going. It’s… brutal, but effective. 

Try Speaking Instead!

Maybe this wasn’t an option that William Shakespeare had, but writing isn’t just limited to ink and paper anymore. I’m not talking about typewriters or modern day keyboards — I’m talking about writing with your voice! Voice to text isn’t the most reliable way of getting an accurate reading of what you’re saying, but if you’re someone who struggles with the constant urge to erase and start over, it’s still best to take your hands away from the keyboard completely. We don’t get to edit our every word before it leaves our mouths (unless you prefer unnaturally long pauses in conversation), so speaking as if you’re having a one-sided chat can be a useful tool. Maybe you’ll even find you work better when you can hear what’s being written! Since you aren’t working to write well, it’s okay if your device doesn’t give you a 100% accurate transcription of what you said. That’s something you can fix during editing and if it works as intended, there’ll be a lot to work with!

I won’t lie: there are times where none of these will work. That’s inescapable! You’ll meet your limit sometime, and in case of burnout, it’s best not to force it. But don’t be discouraged- it doesn’t mean they’ll never work, or that they stopped being effective. The things on this list have helped me and I’m certain they can help others, too.

Christina is a bumbling first-year student at HWS intending to study English (and maybe some Theater on the side). When she’s not daydreaming about writing ideas, you could find her freaking out about the latest book she’s read, a new song that she really wants to play, or a new idea for an adorable stuffed animal.