By Delaney Hanon
The initial spark of motivation to begin a project is always hard to come by. The first step seems huge and ominous and way too difficult to tackle in just a half an hour, right? It’s also scary to start out on a new endeavor, as how our work begins can dictate how the final product turns out. This is precisely why getting started is the most important part of any piece of writing. Okay, yes, of course starting something is necessary in order to finish it. But the manner with which we begin our work—and the time we allow ourselves to complete it—has an important connection to our relationship with the writing itself.
This first step can take form in a number of different ways. Each writer is different, and it’s important to realize that just because rigid outlining is the only way one person can go about an essay does not mean that it is the only correct way. Getting started on an essay doesn’t have to be intimidating. It doesn’t even have to take a long time! One of the best ways to get ideas flowing is to give yourself a set period of time to just get ideas out of your head. Take ten minutes before going on Facebook to freewrite. Getting ideas down on the page makes them real. It also helps you realize what you understand and what you still need clarified. This is especially beneficial to do when you still have a bit of time before your essay is due. It’s an easy way to get past the daunting step of starting. It’s much easier to keep working than to get started.
My personal favorite method of brainstorming/outlining/what have you uses sticky notes. They are beneficial for a number of reasons. They visually break ideas into samples of evidence, quotes, connecting thoughts, and random details. They are really easy to move around, which allows you freedom from getting stuck in a particular train of thought that may not be going anywhere. Most beneficially, it is really hard for sticky notes to be intimidating. The process of beginning becomes a lot less scary when the task is writing various ideas on pink squares of paper. The method begins in the text (or whatever the topic is). I go through all my reading and remind myself of quotes and ideas that struck me. Each goes on an individual sticky note, along with questions or main ideas I may have. My favorite part of this method is that it doesn’t require a thesis to start. Even if I have no idea what I’m writing about, I can start to formulate what I understand and think about my topic. As the sticky notes pile up, concepts start to connect, and an overarching theme or argument usually starts to form. The notes can be organized into categories and piles that then can easily turn into paragraphs. Essentially, you can write the entire paper out on sticky notes before you even have to think about putting ideas into coherent, flowing sentences, which does take a load off the mind.
Again, every writer is different. Sticky notes aren’t your thing? Try:
- Writing for 10 minutes straight about your topic, including “ums,” “I’m not sure what to put heres,” and vague references to something that might have been in the text.
- Write down all the quotes you liked from the book and think about how they connect.
- Just write a single body paragraph. A little bit at a time!
- List all the evidence you have and see where you need more.
- Verbally brainstorm with a friend from the class, or even your professor in office hours. Get ideas flowing!
In the end, what is really important is just doing SOMETHING. Each time you write down an idea, it becomes easier to go back and add another. Every writer is different, so find what works for you. But do something! That paper really won’t write itself.