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How to Get Started Writing

Another essay by Earl Nightingale from the How to Completely Change Your Life Series

How to Get Started Writing

Success as a writer is the same as in any other field—it’s a matter of forming the right habits. And the best way to form the right habits is to do something you know you should be doing, every day.

You know, the person who writes a daily column for the newspapers; the cartoonist with a daily syndicated feature; or, perhaps, the Hollywood script writer on a definite assignment, sooner or later finds himself drawing a blank. That is, with a deadline approaching, a deadline that must be met, he finds himself without a single idea. The same thing happens to me. It happens very rarely—but it happens. You put a piece of paper in the typewriter and then stare at it. You let your mind wander—you concentrate—you glance around your library—you read something. Then you begin to think of all the things you’d rather be doing… fishing maybe, or playing golf, or traveling to some distant place. You forcibly bring your mind back to the job at hand, and start the whole thing all over again.

There’s the typewriter with the blank sheet in it and there’s the approaching deadline. Do you know what you do? You begin to write. You just begin!

This is why the professional writer laughs when he hears someone say, “I have to wait for the mood. I must court the muse and wait for inspiration.”

The men and women who earn their living writing against deadlines would starve, or find some other business, if they waited for inspiration.

One time, some years ago, I spoke before a university journalism class. One of the comments I made was later to come back and haunt me. I told them that if they were really serious about writing, writing for a living, they should write something every day. Even if it was nothing more than making a few notes on the back of an envelope—write something every day. And if they found they couldn’t think of anything to write, to write anyway.

I still believe I was right but there have been many times when I’ve sat and stared at a blank sheet of paper for 4 or 5 hours before I could write a single word. Success as a writer is the same as in any other field—it’s a matter of forming the right habits. And the best way to form the right habits is to do something you know you should be doing, every day. The more you do it, the easier it becomes—the more competent and confident you become—and the work becomes steadily better. Also, the more you do, the more ideas you get for future work.

I guess we all know that the longer you put off what you know very well you should be doing, the more you dread doing it. Finally, because of our procrastination, the job looms far larger than it did in the beginning until we finally, in a kind of desperation, pitch into it and discover that it really wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought it was going to be. We should have done it at once, in the beginning, without wasting all that time—storing up all that apprehension and being miserable sidestepping our responsibilities.

I’m willing to make a guess right now that you’ve got something you should have done days, or maybe even weeks ago, but you’ve been putting it off, hoping it will go away. If you don’t mind taking some advice from a person who makes it a practice to do the same thing—do it now! Just pitch in and start. Before you know it, it’ll be finished—you’ll feel really proud of yourself—until the next time.

You know, if every day each of us would just do the things we know very well we really should be doing, we’d always be ahead of the game, instead of lagging forever behind and then having to run like mad to catch up.

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