How To Turn Yourself Into a Writer

 batman as writer

This is for everyone who ever said to me, “I want to write but I just don’t know how to start. What do I write about?”

 

Here’s a method to try. It may work for you or it may not. No guarantees. The key is sticking with it.

 

You knew I was going to say that.

 

Week One: every morning for one week, get up five minutes earlier than usual and write a one sentence story.

 

Just one sentence.

 

Is one sentence a story? Don’t worry if it is or not. Pretend that it is. Allow your one sentence to be a story whether anyone else would call it one or not.

 

I’m going to write one right now to show you how it’s done.

 

One of my bedroom slippers is missing.

 

There. Done. A sentence that popped into my head just now. And I’m calling it a story, so there. I’ve just written a story.

 

Your turn. One sentence. A sentence as plain as you like. As wild as you like. As tender, angry, sappy, or shockingly outrageous as you like.

 

There you go, you’ve written a story. Wow! How flipping easy was that? Congratulations, Hemingway.

 

Write one of these one-sentence stories every morning for a week. And there you go, seven stories already, in only seven days.

 

Week Two: every morning for one week, get up five minutes earlier than usual and add one more sentence to one of your one-sentence stories. Just one sentence.

 

One of my bedroom slippers is missing. I think I can hear the dog chewing on it under the bed.

 

Easier this time, isn’t it? You’re not starting with the scary blank page like you were last week. You’ve already got some material to work with. That first sentence set up some constraints (if this is about my bedroom slippers then I guess it isn’t going to be about hunting lions on the savannah) but constraints are what drive creativity. When would-be writers say “I don’t know what to write about!” what they really mean is “There are too many things to write about and I can’t choose!” Now that you already have a first sentence to launch out from, you’re no longer facing that entire overwhelming universe of things that could be written about. Accept the direction that first sentence seems to be steering you in, and run with it, all the way to the end of a second sentence. There, you’re done. Another day of writerly accomplishment wrapped up before breakfast.

 

Thundering slugs, this writing business is easier than you thought.

 

Week Three: every morning for a week, get up five minutes earlier than usual, or maybe ten, and add a third sentence to one of your one-sentence stories. Amazing how fast these babies are growing! Each story is already three times as long as it was when you began.

 

One of my bedroom slippers is missing. I think I can hear the dog chewing on it under the bed. The problem is, we don’t have a dog.

 

Maybe you’re feeling really energized about writing this morning, and you blow on past that third sentence. You write another one, or two more, or eight. That’s fine, too, but stop yourself at ten minutes (set your phone alarm). A good place to break off for the day is at a point where you have a pretty good idea where the story is going to go next. That way, the next morning you can sit right down and continue where you left off.

 

So there you go, three weeks, seven growing stories. You’re on your way. What you do from here is up to you. You might keep adding a sentence to one story every morning. Or you could leave them alone for a week, then go back to them and pick one out that seems to have more promise than the others (or is just more fun to write), and every morning add another sentence to just that one story. Or you might take sentences from one story and add them to another. The point is, don’t do too much each day. A few minutes of work. Don’t push yourself too hard. If it’s starting to get frustrating or boring, stop. Don’t set some goal of a certain number of words per day. If you make it painful, if you turn it into a chore, you’ll probably stop doing it. If you think you have to write ten thousand words a day because Stephen King does, you’ll probably give up and spend your five minutes every morning weeping quietly.

 

If one sentence each week doesn’t seem quite ambitious enough for you, make it two sentences the second week, three sentences the third week, etc. The number of sentences is not as important as doing this every day at the same time each day.

 

At some point you may abandon some of the stories because they’re not really working or interesting to you anymore. That’s fine. Let them go. No writing is wasted writing.

 

You don’t think this snail’s pace will get you where you want to go? The truth is, making a regular habit of writing is far more important than how much you write. Making a habit of writing, even a little every day, as long as it is every day, will keep the pilot light of your imagination lit with a slow, steady, reliable flame. The story you’re working on will stay alive in your mind and open up for you, word by word, sentence by sentence. You’ll have plenty of time in between each brief writing session to mull over your story, to dream about it, to let the unconscious shape it while you’re doing other things. This won’t happen if you binge-write for a day or two and then leave the story sitting for weeks. Leave a story alone too long and when you come back to it the story will be as cold as a dying flounder on a wharf in Labrador.

 

Have you ever tried to resuscitate a dying flounder on a wharf in Labrador? I haven’t either, but I bet it’s ugly, unpleasant work.

 

That’s it. A little writing, every day. Just a little. One sentence is an accomplishment. I truly mean that. One sentence plucked from your imagination is something that never existed before. A rebellious act of creativity in a random mechanistic universe. Take that, entropy!

 

One sentence a day won’t burn you out, or get you lost in a tangled mess of plot threads. One sentence a day will give you the time to live, breathe and really listen to your sentences, so that as you go along it will be easier to recognize the sentences that work, that propel the story forward, that engage you as the very first reader of the story. And the sentences will add up faster than you think.

 

Good luck. Stick with it. Have fun.

 

P.S. So okay, after a couple of months, you’ve got a story of a few pages, but what if it’s a shapeless mess that wanders around going nowhere? What if the story sucks and you can’t stand to look at it? Set the story aside. Forget about it. Begin again: one sentence each morning for a week, one more sentence every morning for a week….

 

 

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