Getting started in writing anything

Writing is challenging. But the rewards are worthwhile. So, while it is difficult to get started, if you break it down into small, manageable tasks, you can get going very quickly. It's like exercising. If you think about all that you need to do to lose 20 pounds, you'll never get started. But if you break it down into tasks (e.g., put on workout clothes, drive to the gym, sit down and pedal on bike machine for 30 minutes), the whole ordeal becomes less onerous.
Here are some preliminary steps I take to get into a writerly mode:
  • Step 1: Do what I need to do to get comfy. This means making a cup of tea, sitting in my favorite writing spot (on the living room sofa with my legs propped up, preferably with a napping cat nearby), keeping my phone nearby but on silent mode.
  • Step 2: Put my immediate, foremost thoughts, in one sentence, on the screen (or on paper if that's how you like to work). I imagine telling my boyfriend or friend (or child, depending on my intended audience) about this topic or event. What would the first thing out of my mouth be? I try not to think too much, try not to let the Spelling and Grammar Check part of my brain jump in. I allow punctuation errors, run-on sentences, disorganized thoughts, whatever goes.
  • Step 2: I rewrite this lead sentence so that it says what I want it to say, more or less. It doesn't have to be perfect or final. You can always change it later.
  • Step 3: I write down different topics that I want to discuss in further detail using this sentence as the jump-off point.
  • Step 4: I create headers for these different topics. These headers can be a short phrase or a word.
  • Step 5: I create subheaders under these headers that further pull apart ideas or concepts that I'd like to elaborate on.
  • Step 6: I write a paragraph or two that go further into detail under each subheader.

Voila! I've created an outline. Organization is the key to writing effectively. And the bonus of an outline is it creates a scaffold on which to build your piece, meaning 50% of the work is done. All the other elements of writing — adding the fancy words, tinkering with punctuation and sentence structure, making sure you're making your point — are secondary acts.