Do you ever feel like professional writers belong to a secret club? Some of them certainly seem to think that writing is a difficult and arduous process, and that only a select few people can really do it. It's as if they think, “If you aren't going to be a Writer with a capital W, don't even bother.”
I'm here to tell you that's total B.S.!
Everyone has a story inside her, and everyone has the tools to tell it. The real challenge is taking those first daunting steps, beginning the journey toward writing your story in a way that feels authentic to you. I think of it like an adventure at sea: All the packing and planning and preparation in the world won't give you the courage to step aboard. And, more importantly, once you DO step aboard, everything that follows will feel easy and natural and exciting.
If you're almost ready to begin your own writing journey but aren't quite sure how to kick it off, here are four simple steps to get you started!
STEP 1: Get specific about what you want to write. You wouldn't step aboard a boat without knowing it's final destination, right? Along the same lines, you probably don't want to dive into a writing project without knowing what you want to say. Give it some serious thought, journal for a few days, and kick around as many ideas as you'd like. Then ask yourself, “What do I really want to share?” Will it be nonfiction, fiction, memoir? If it's a personal topic, how deep do you want to dig into it?
In my first book, Unbridled, I wanted to write about a cheater and liar, but also about what it felt like to break out of a confined life. I needed to share my transformation, the steps that led to an unfettered, free, honest life. When I began mulling my second book, I realized I wanted to write other women’s stories, to tell the stories of wives of wounded warriors. I wanted to do more, I wanted what I wrote to matter in the grand scheme of things. I wanted to contribute, to feel connected to a larger purpose.
If you have multiple ideas, list out one to four different topics that appeal to you. Then make pro and con lists for all of them to narrow down your choices.
STEP 2: Accept the authenticity of your topic. Defining what you want to write is challenging, but embracing your topic as worthy can be even harder. Once you've settled on your subject, it's essential that you both accept it as something authentic and valuable, and accept yourself as the person to explore it. Are there any thoughts or obstacles stopping you from feeling worthy and deserving of writing successfully? What can you do to clear those obstacles from your path?
STEP 3: Pick a working title. Before a ship can be launched from port, it needs a name. When a vessel changes hands its name may change, but all ships—small and large—are named before they set out on the high seas.
Choosing a title sets the tone for your own writing journey. Again, that title may change as the story unfolds, but choosing a working title lends a feeling of formality and commitment to your project. Make it official: Pick a title.
STEP 4: Commit to action. This will likely be the toughest part: Stepping aboard and trusting that the journey will be worthwhile. But you must find a way to take that first brave step, and then follow it up with more and more steps. Find the time to write. Start that blog you've been dreaming about. Quit making excuses. Begin journaling. Sign up for that creative writing class. Commit.
I won't lie: This will be hard work. But it pays off and is very necessary. Put in the sweat and effort to keep your writing journey rolling.
Make writing part of your daily or weekly routine. Put it on your calendar, add it to the schedule in your mobile phone. Chunk out two hours each week, or 15 minutes each day, whatever works for your lifestyle. But don't tell yourself, “I don't have time to write.” If you have time to watch TV or poke around Facebook or get in long text conversations with your girlfriends, you have time to write. Carve it out. Make it a priority. Make an itinerary and a map for your journey and stick to them.
And when you get tired or frustrated and think of quitting, do a cost-benefit analysis. What do you gain and what do you lose if you decide to continue with this project? What do you gain and lose if you abandon it? What's the price you're willing to pay to see this through?
Above all, write like you mean it. Take your life and vision for yourself seriously. If you aren't yet ready to stand at the helm of the ship, at least be a co-pilot in the story that is unfolding for you. If you’re too afraid to get onto the high seas, you'll never know true adventure. Nothing will change if you don’t change. Get that ship out of port, allow the trip to begin! You will be challenged and you will take risks out there, but how you handle the journey is what makes it transformative.
They say every great journey begins with a single step. If you've been hesitating for too long—waiting for just the right time to take that step and come aboard—I hope this will be the nudge you need. Whether you realize it or not, you are the hero of your own tale. And that tale deserves to be told.
Be the one to tell it.