Getting Words Down on the PagePosted: February 5, 2015
by Adam Robinson, University Writing Center
The hardest part of writing for me is getting those first words down on the page. And I’ve worked in the Writing Center long enough to know that I’m not the only person who has this difficulty. I’m dedicating this blog entry to any writer who is blocked or has been blocked. Hopefully, I can offer a little advice or at least some empathy with your situation.
I usually get stuck because my expectations for my project are too high in the beginning—insert image of a frustrated writer staring at a blank screen, writing then deleting opening line after opening line. The best way for me to free myself from the burden of high expectations is to start my projects with low stakes writing that won’t likely (or perhaps shouldn’t) make it in my first draft. I’m talking sloppy, unpunctuated sentences paired with some doodles and a few lists. In fact, low stakes writing is a constant presence in all stages of any project I’m working on. I’ve seen three benefits from this casual approach to writing. 1. I’m less bored with my writing process. Low stakes writing is a needed break from the formal, “correct” writing expected of polished drafts. I allow myself to go on tangents and explore my thoughts in my low stakes writing. 2. These tangents and explorations reflect the simple reality that we write or should write to discover what we know and don’t know about whatever it is that we are writing about. It’s often repeated among writing teachers that “writing is thinking.” 3. Lastly, writing the first draft seems less intimidating because I’ve already started writing. I was taught a linear approach to writing that involved picking a topic, researching, outlining, and drafting. That process certainly helped me develop as a writer. But that process also put a lot of unneeded pressure on me when it came time to write the first draft. I had already done a tremendous amount of research and thinking. I had completed an outline that promised a beautiful, logical final product. I needed to see that hard work immediately pay off with a successful first draft. I don’t thrive on that kind of pressure. I like to lower the stakes with my writing.
More importantly, however, I remind myself that I never write in isolation. I need other people (usually other writers) for motivation, guidance, and inspiration. Reading other people’s words and ideas often unblocks me. And like low stakes writing, reading is always a part of each stage of my project. I obviously read before I write a draft to get a sense of the conversation circulating around my chosen topic. But even after I’ve written a few drafts and have gotten closer to something that resembles a complete essay, I find myself needing and wanting to do more reading. I may reread a critical source for inspiration or to find something new, or I may seek out a new source that can plug a hole in my thinking.
And, of course, I seek out advice from other writers, which leads me to a final point…and plug for the Writing Center. We can help you with any project (professional or personal) at any stage of that project. We will engage you in a productive conversation about your writing. We’ll answer your questions and listen to your goals and concerns while asking you a few questions of our own and giving you a thoughtful response to any writing that you share with us. And since we always think about your writing as being in process, there is no judgment about the quality of your draft. It’s just a draft to us. There are no grades. No number scores. We are simply trying to help you move your project forward and to share with you some ways to approach future writing projects. We want you to come away from an appointment feeling more confident and more prepared to work on your project. You can visit our website (http://louisville.edu/writingcenter) to learn about our consultations and to access our handouts, videos, and other writing related resources.
Have a good semester!