On Writing

Will Holley
Dec 14, 2019 · 3 min read

To write about writing, specifically how to start writing, as an exercise in learning how to start writing was not intentional. My mind carelessly drifted to this nexus as I sat down at my desk resolved to type, lacking thoughtfulness as to what words should be typed. This dissonance of purpose compounded with a sheer desire to do resulted in asking myself how.

It is a simple question to ask because it does not it carry inherent assumptions, whereas a modifier, such as a novel i.e. how to start writing a novel, introduces the culturally-conceived constraints of the novel: length, structure, themes, taste, tradition, the new, et cetera. However, my default lack of assumption is cognitively unstable: human behavior desires the construction of structure (be it fitting or not) in entropy, bearing “to write” be followed with a generic what. Typing “how to start writinginto Google, results append my query with automatic suggestions: “a book”, “a novel”, “a song”, “poetry”, “a blog”, “articles”, “a college essay”, “a letter”, and “an essay”.

I do not want to write any thing at all. Choosing forces upon me constraint: the reader’s conception of how the generic what should be shaped. I want to avoid this altogether by having no clear goal in mind, and simply asking how relieves me to exploratory surprise. However, I am curious as to how others would answer this question. I click the first search result, entitled “8 Great Ways to Start the Writing Process | News for Authors”. Penguin Random House greets me in the top left corner of my web browser along with the knowledge that these eight are the ideas of “eight authors on how to kick-start the writing process”.

  1. Start in the Middle
  2. Start Small and Build Up
  3. Incentivize the Reader
  4. Commit to a Title Up Front
  5. Create a Synopsis
  6. Allow Yourself to Write Badly
  7. Make Up the Story as You Go
  8. Do the Opposite

This advice doesn’t suit my aims; I don’t want to kick anything and have no intention to write like an author. I want to be free of conception, simply to write, for words to creep then flow. But in writing the previous sentence, I have bubbled up my own latent ideals of what my writing should be. In seeking to be unencumbered externally, I have ironically fallen into the aforementioned cognitive tendency to structure. To address this, I ask myself, why should anything?

Why start writing? To answer this derived question requires examining my motivations as they causally inform how I do anything. Answering why requires the introspection of my habitus: my own voice, not the global voice of internet consensus (Google) or literary elite (the chosen penguins); it is my own disposition, history, my choice of Almond Coconut milk for breakfast and my inevitable last thought tonight.

We (you and I, reader) have reached an important point of inflection: I do not need to answer “why start writingto answer “how to start writing”. The latter question, my initial question, does not expressly examine its own fundamental motivations and upon superficial impression is resultantly hollow. However, in asking this question and exploring its conceptual tendrils, my motivation (to do) has provoked its own self-examination (“why start writing?), producing this body of text to answer. In essence¹, the very act of doing is how to start writing.


[1]: And without the intention of reducing this text to a reductive proof

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