What To Write?


A reader posted a comment on my blog asking the following question:

I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior to writing. I’ve had difficulty clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out there.  I do take pleasure in writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be lost simply just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or tips? Appreciate it!

Centering and clearing thoughts before writing isn’t usually a challenge.  The challenge for me is knowing what I want to write.  Once I have an idea or topic in mind, I just sit down and start to write.  Once the piece is written,  the process of reading and editing begins.  That is the time when you chop your work to pieces, move paragraphs around, and reword things that just don’t “sound” right.

I don’t have any original ideas to share but I can offer some ideas from other bloggers and writers that have been helpful to me over the years.   Here are some of my favorite ideas and tips.

1. Anne Lamott is my favorite author.  If you haven’t read Bird By Bird, I would recommend reading it.  If you have read it, read it again.  I pick it up and read from it all the time.  I always find some new inspiration there.   Here is just one quote from the book:

“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything – down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft — you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft — you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy.”
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

2. I went to a weekend writing workshop and learned to do “free writing.”  I know some writers who call it “word vomit.”  You never know what will happen when you free write.  Most people suggest using pen and paper (yes, they still make those), but you can use the computer if the keyboard is where you are the most creative.  Set a timer for 5, 10, or however many minutes you choose.  Then, begin writing and do not stop until the time goes off.  Don’t stop to think, edit, correct, etc.  Even if you start writing and all you can get is, “I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write. I don’t know what to write ” keep writing.   Eventually, you will write more and even find some gems in the chaos.

3.  I carry a small notebook or sometimes use my note app on the phone to capture ideas, things I hear people say,  or something I see that intrigues me.  I know many other writers who do this as well.  Sometimes you can take a picture of something that makes you think, “I really want to write about that.”  I save quotes from other blogs or books that inspire me.  There are so many ways to find ideas.

4.  “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”  Ernest Hemingway                                                                   I love this quote.   To me it means you have to expose yourself when you write.   Once I stop worrying about what my friends, family or anyone one else for that matter, is going to think about what I write, I create space in my mind to let go.  I stop agonizing over how it looks.  I stop obsessing about commas.  No one likes commas anyway! You can read my thoughts on that here.  I write because I love to write.  It is a part of who I am. I just have to get out of the way.

How about other bloggers and writers?  What are ways you “get your thoughts out there?”


6 responses

  1. Great ideas! Thanks for sharing. I especially like the “down, up, and dental drafts” 🙂


  2. Great blog and absolutely true…you need to find what works for you.I write poetry for special occasions, and when I’m stuck I re-read some of my previous work or stuff by other poets to ‘get me in the mood.’ My favourite quote is from crime writer Dorothy L Sayers, creator of Lord Peter Wimsey..now this is typical I cant find the quote!! But have found another one instead! She takes the image of a cistern filling up…very graphic..

    STOP…Get back to something you can tinker at quietly and honestly…till the cistern fills up again. It will fill up. It always does. Always – if you don’t fuss it and get in a stew about it. And if you haven’t been pumping anything into it. And when it does fill up, you will have no doubt whatever about it: you will know what you have to do. You won’t choose it: it will choose you. Dorothy L Sayers in a letter to CS Lewis


  3. #4 reminds me of Stephen King’s “On Writing” when he tells us to write our first drafts with the door closed. It is so hard to get over ourselves (for me, anyway) and not think about what people will think when we read what we’ve written, and instead, focus only on getting the words out.


  4. this was a great post … one of the things you touched on is about commas and such … I’ve always been so intimidated, knowing that I’ll never be able to pull off proper punctuation or grammar, and I let that get in the way of even beginning. Sad, but true.

    I also love Bird by Bird, but it’s been a long time since I’ve opened the pages of that book … maybe now would be a good time to read it again, and get inspired. Thanks for the reminder.


  5. […] What To Write? (cathysvoicenow.wordpress.com) […]


  6. I have been really struggling to write lately so this post is an encouragement and inspiration to me. I will be bookmarking it! Thanks Cathy! 🙂


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