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Writer’s Blog

How to sit down and write.

Even if you don’t know what to write about.

Beth van der Pol
Jan 3, 2020 · 5 min read

Let’s be honest. We’ve all used the reason ‘I don’t know what to write about’ as an excuse to get out of sitting in front of our laptops.

That excuse is absolutely ridiculous considering that a large portion of writing is, in fact, coming up with ideas. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s normal and natural to feel uninspired when it comes to writing, but telling me that you have absolutely no ideas? I don’t believe it.

For the sake of giving you the benefit of the doubt, I’ll pretend like I believe you. You don’t have any ideas today, that’s alright. Here is a way that will cut out that excuse for good.

Writers are collectors. We hoard ideas like there is no tomorrow, so maybe you’re right. Maybe you don’t have any ideas, let me help you with that.

Chances are if you’ve been in a writing community for any length of time you’ve heard about this useful tool. Whether or not you implement it, however, is an entirely different matter. For those of you that are new to the writing world, welcome to the piece of advice that is going to save you a whole bunch of time and energy!

I’m just going to go out there and say it, you need a writer’s notebook. It doesn’t have to be physical. What you do need is something you can pull out at the drop of a hat and scribble or type on, because inspiration strikes in unlikely places.

Keeping a notebook on you where you can collect titles, stories, or characteristics is vital to a writer. My notebook is absolutely essential to my writing. If you want to know how I’ve set mine up, you can find out here. I use my notebook for so much more than just idea-collection. I love having all of my writer things in one place!

Often when a writer doesn’t know what to write about, it’s not due to lack of ideas but due to a lack of motivation.

Have a think long and hard about whether your problem is a lack of inspiration or a lack of willingness to sit down with a pen and paper and brainstorm.

In order to be inspired, we need to give our brains time to come up with ideas. They don’t all have to be perfect or even good, but you do need to come up with ideas. I come up with a few article ideas a day. When I do, I hit the new story button on Medium, jot down the title and either leave or start clacking away at my keyboard.

The articles that I don’t write immediately get used for days when I don’t feel creative or simply don’t want to think of topics. The others get added to my ‘to edit’ pile and get polished for daily articles.

It’s essential to vary your workdays. I used to write, edit and post an article every day, and it very quickly made me both tired, and unprofessional. Nowadays, I have writing days and editing days.

This is important because writing and editing require very different types of thinking. Flipping from one to the other can be exhausting, that’s a large reason why people advise against editing as you go.

You’re going to come up with topic ideas that don’t work.

You’re going to have days when your writing is subpar.

That’s what happens when you’re a writer, the magic happens with the editing.

Editing is what brings a piece of work together. It’s a vital part of the writing process, I don’t stick with my first draft and hit the publish button. I wait a few days, read carefully, add things that are missing or could be improved upon, and then I hit publish.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m writing I get tired of a topic very quickly, and if I haven’t outlined my article in tidy little bullet points, I run out things to say.

The editing process is for thinking about points to add. Adding meat to an article in hindsight is a great way to change the 300-word story to something a bit sturdier.

I don’t write long articles, to begin with, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t add anything to my work. Most of my article’s first drafts stop at 100 words. That’s slightly ridiculous. My brain shuts off after it thinks it’s said enough on the topic. Those first 100 words are mainly, unartful, unopinionated and story lacking. That’s okay, because when I get to writing them, and then editing them those first 100 words show me what’s really important about the topic.

This is scary at first, but it’s actually quite easy if you have the time and can get into a good writing habit. This piece of advice isn’t for those who don’t have a few hours to kill at their computer every day, but it works really well for me!

So this is how it works, I have my list of title ideas, and I jump in and out of a few of them. Sometimes I add a few sentences to the topic, sometimes I finish the article outright. It depends how inspired I am by the subject.

This article, for example, was only a title. I have managed to write all of its contents in one sitting. These types of articles are my favourite! All I have to do is add them to the editing pile. They don’t have to suffer through another writing day.

I aim for most of my articles to be at least 5 minutes +. That’s not for any reason other than I’m an underwriting and I’m trying to work on that.

If I let myself get away with it, all of my articles would be under three minutes. Now, that’s not a problem, I love reading three-minute stories. I am, however trying to kick a habit and practise writing longer format things. So don’t stick to my goals, make your own.

Ultimately if you’re going to attempt writing as either a serious hobbyist or as a career, you’re going to have to sit down and do the work. Your book or article won’t write itself. Don’t wait for inspiration, build an environment and schedule that encourages ideas! Set realistic goals, both for output and ideas, and please don’t get too caught up on whether it’s ‘good’. Editing will fix that!

As always, I cannot wait to see you on the bookshelf!

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