My seven-year-old son recently announced that he wanted to write a story.
My little writer! My proud writer-mother’s heart soared…for a few moments. I sat him down at the computer, made sure he named and saved the new Word file that he opened, and then stepped back to bask in the moment.
Then the professional kicked in.
“Just start writing,” I coached. “It doesn’t have to be good. You just want to get your thoughts down on the page. We can come back and fix things later.”
He nodded confidently and began tapping away at the keyboard. Peck, peck, peck.
I reluctantly backed away and walked slowly out of the room. In fact, I went back to my own computer and resolutely pecked away myself at an article I was writing.
“Mom? Mooo-ooom!” his voice echoed from the second floor. “How do you spell delicious? Mom! Mom, I need you right NOW!”
I pushed my chair away from my desk and climbed the stairs. When I got to him, I spelled the word for him and then counseled him to not worry too much about correct spelling at this point.
“Just do your best. Try to spell it the way you think it should be spelled, but don’t get too hung up on it if you don’t think it looks right,” I said. “Just keep writing.”
And with those exchanges, I have passed along some of the greatest writing advice I ever received. In fact, I remember my delight when a well-known journalist told me and the rest of a group of people attending a Poynter Institute seminar that we should just start writing already. Just get started. Don’t get paralyzed by the empty page. Just start writing. You can start writing in the middle, then come back and write the beginning later. Just start.
I think Tom Hallman’s exact words were “Lower your standards. At first.”
It sounds a little shocking at first. I know it sounded that way to me. But think about it. You get started. You don’t worry if your sentences are the best you’ve ever composed. You’re just getting started. You’re not letting the old writer’s block get the best of you.
Now, those of us who’ve been newspaper reporters pretty much already know this. You don’t have the luxury of time when you’re on a daily deadline. And that’s even more true today for people writing for online publications, given the 24-hour news cycle. You’re not just filing copy for tomorrow morning’s paper. You’re writing copy to be posted in ten minutes. Or you’re tweeting or posting on Facebook or other social media platforms.
You have. to. start. writing. now.
But even if you’re writing for a corporate client or a website, or even if you’re just writing for yourself, it’s good advice. Just start writing. You can come (and should) back and tweak it later. You can edit, copy-edit, move sentences around, delete redundancies, add information, correct spelling, and scrap entire paragraphs. You can even start over, if you like.
So I’ve become sort of a broken record on this topic (how’s that for a cliche that will show my age?). Just start writing. Lower your standards–at first–and just start writing.
As for my son, he’s still at the age where he actually listens to me. So that night, he wrote and wrote and wrote, and then he called for me again. We fixed the spelling errors, and I inserted a few punctuation marks. He ended up with about four long paragraphs. It was a pretty good start to a story, too. But he wouldn’t have even that if he hadn’t just started writing.
So, that’s my pep talk…are you going to start writing now?