how am I supposed to just start

It’s late into Sunday evening, and I haven’t written any content for my peers to workshop. As a senior, I’ve been finding it difficult to motivate myself to sit down and focus, especially when it’s cold outside, my house is warm, and the Olympics are on.

My lack of motivation hasn’t been much of a problem, but I can already tell that I won’t be able to do the bare minimum for this class. I won’t be happy with myself if I do, since I have a personal stake in the project.

So now I’m trying to motivate myself. Or at least get this going. And I’ve been thinking back to other times when I’ve had similar challenges. Last year, in English 325, we had whole-class workshops, where you were assigned a day to bring in your rough draft for the entire class to critique. It was the night before my draft was due, and I hadn’t written anything; I didn’t even know what I should write about. But I didn’t want to hand in something that would be so terrible I’d be embarrassed to share it with everyone.

I had no choice but to just start.

I started writing and ignored edits as I went. Normally, I rewrite almost sentence by sentence, because I feel like I can’t move on until I’ve finished. Yet pressed for time I found myself sloppily spitting out words until I had full paragraphs. This new writing process allowed me to create one of my favorite bits of writing:

“In the spring there were little sail boats and rowboats tied to the one small dock, and in the winter I remember the pond freezing over at least once, but I do not remember seeing any ice skaters. The fall was overloaded with colors and in my mind I see piles of leaves on the sidewalks, although I am sure the leaves were picked up, put in bags, and sent away on trucks. When I got tired of looking, I would close my eyes and listen to the radio and my dad shifting the gears. The traffic and stoplights made it nearly impossible to shift past first, so the glide of the car in neutral and the feel of the clutch engaging would lull me in my sleepy state. Other than the radio and the sounds of the transmission, we always drove in silence.”

Now, this has been edited for my final draft, but without fixing things as I went, I was able to spew out clear emotions and pictures in my head. Then I could go back and make things sharper later.

Moving forward in my current project, I want to hold off on edits until I have large chucks of writing. So even if what I produce for tomorrow is sloppier than I would like, I know that I’ve gotten what’s in my head out in some form. And hopefully there will be more candor in my writing than there would be otherwise.

This approach is easier to do with this larger project, since there is a lot of time (hopefully) at the back end to do some serious editing. I am going to plan my process so that my periods of content creation are shorter than my editing periods. This way, I won’t have too much to invest in content creation; I’ll just have to bang out the writing as I go. But then, I’ll have to invest more time and ultimately more effort into cleaning up my prose and making it more cohesive. This way, the creative content will remain, and the precise prose that I’m looking for will be crafted.

One thought to “how am I supposed to just start”

  1. Hey Emily! For what it’s worth, you are definitely not alone in having difficulty getting started. Facing that “blank page” is daunting, and personally, my fear of the blank page has lead to a lot of procrastination and anxieties. But I think you may have answered your own question in this blog post. A great way to “just start” is to simply spew word vomit onto the page. As your highlighted passage shows, this can even lead to some of your best writing because it’s spontaneous and raw. Maybe you could try that same strategy for the Capstone project. Sometimes I feel like my own writing is so calculated and pre-planned that it could actually benefit from a little more spontaneity. Although it’s not as polished, I do think that there is value in what comes onto the page under time pressure.

    Another strategy to get started could be to work in a place that fosters your creativity. It’s definitely hard to get over procrastination with the refrigerator, Netflix, and a comfy bed all within reach. Separating my “work” locations from my “home” location helps me a lot with this. Finding the right place may even provide some creative inspiration. Anyway, I hope this was helpful and good luck with the rest of your project!

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