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I don’t know how to start

I want to write a book but

Generating words through freewriting

So far in this ‘I want to write a book but’ series I’ve talked about finding time to write and coming up with an idea. Today is about how to start. This will be especially useful if you keep staring at a blank screen, fingers poised over the keyboard, or if you’ve been editing the first page over and over and therefore never make any progress.

In his book Writing with Power, Peter Elbow talks about a writing method he calls ‘freewriting’  If you need help getting started, freewriting is one of the most powerful techniques you can use. Try it now. Write without stopping for one minute. No rules, apart from: don’t take your pen off the paper or your fingers off the keyboard. No need to spell, punctuate or even stay on the lines! Quick tip: pick a starting word if it helps, such as ‘sea’ or ‘blue’.

Most of the writing games and exercises mentioned in this post involve freewriting of a sort, but if in doubt keep coming back to the original version of the technique: simply writing, without censoring yourself, without trying to make sense, and without stopping, for a set amount of time. Remember you don’t have to show anyone and you could write rubbish if you want to – you have my permission!

Observation and ‘live’ writing

One way to use freewriting is to pair it with observation. Close observation, once you get the hang of it, is also a powerful technique. Begin by finding an object to look at. Make it something you can hold in your hand. Observe it closely – I mean really examine it in detail – bringing in all of your senses, for one minute. Now write about it.

Optional extra to try later: Have a go at ‘live writing’. Go out with a notebook – a park, a café, an interesting building, a museum, a gallery – and write about the place you are in while you are there.

List games

Lists allow us to let go of making sense, and of the idea that there’s such a thing as ‘proper’ or ‘good’ writing. They also allow us to get concrete words down quickly, without padding. Try it now. Think about the last journey you went on, from leaving your house to arriving. Make a list of words related to it.

Now focus on your front door in your mind’s eye, and moving through it from the inside to the outside. Think concrete words as much as possible, rather than abstract ones. In my case, I might write dandelion clocks, seagulls, cats. Make another list of words describing what you see when you move through your front door.

Next, conjure up on a front door or backdoor that you remember from childhood or from another place you lived. Make another list of words.

Create pairs of words

Use all of the lists you’ve created so far. Come up with pairs of words. These pairs don’t have to make sense. For instance, ‘fire book’ or ‘sky tree’ sound intriguing but don’t obviously go together.

Use your pairs of words to write sentences. In this game, use ONLY the pairs of words plus any other words on the lists you’ve created so far. You can add in words like ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘to’, ‘at’ etc. Why are we doing this? Because the pairs games allows you to make interesting, unusual connections that you wouldn’t usually make, and that gets your imagination working.

These writing games work whatever kind of book you want to write because they’re designed to get round that internal censor that tells us our ideas are ‘silly’ or that nobody would want to read what we have to say. Once you’ve got over the fear of the blank page, your words will start to flow. Let me know how you get on in the comments.

More soon. Until then, happy writing,

Lou xx

P.S. Curious about working with me? Find out more here.

P.P.S. Read the next post in this series here. It’s all about structuring a book.

P.P.P.S. I’ve written a book for beginner writers. You can find out more here.

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