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Getting Started as a Writer

So you want to write?

Well, I hope you’ve prepared for the journey ahead. A journey through mountains of self-doubt, across oceans of creative lapse, and past meandering hills of constant revision. As my analogies demonstrate, writing is no easy feat. It’s an art form that challenges us to look inward and reach into the recesses of our creative surplus as we translate our imagination into well-crafted words.

Consider the following steps as you navigate the fantastical yet demanding world of writing.

1. Feed Your Imagination

When writing, you need a well-cultivated imagination to succeed. Limiting the creative scope of our mind hampers the writing process. Imagination pumps the creative juices through our veins, bringing about worlds teeming in talking polar bears, underwater cities on the brink of war, or superheroes vying for planetary control.

But how do we feed our imaginations to reap the greatest benefits? Take this quote from bestselling fiction author Jeff Vandermeer, in his excellent writing craft book Wonderbook: The Illustrative Guide to Imaginative Fiction,

“The most important thing [as a writer] is allowing the subconscious mind to engage in the kind of play that leads to making the connections necessary to create narrative.”

As Vandermeer states, prioritizing this act of “play” by letting your imagination wander through the thoughts running wild in your head, offers endless possibilities when cultivating your imagination. In a world that prioritizes logistics over creative pursuits, using play to enhance our imagination liberates our minds from the constraints of the real world.

They say “curiosity killed the cat,” but as writers, we should be curious. A curiosity for our surroundings can drive us towards imaginative success. That abandoned building you always drive by on your way to work? Be curious and let your mind play about how that building got to its current state--who were the past inhabitants? What was the building’s purpose? Is the story behind its derelict outcome one of tragedy and pain, or triumph and success? Take in what’s around you--the items in your room, the person next to you on the bus, even the current show you’re watching, and see it through a lens that invites creativity and feeds your imagination.

I usually read to incite the imaginative fire within, but during one of my summer slumps, the books I planned diving into just sat on my shelf collecting dust. Every attempt at mustering the energy to pick one up and turn a page only cemented me deeper into my bed. So like any other person, I turned to a Netflix binge session to entertain myself. I chose Neon Genesis Evangelion, the popular Japanese anime from the 90s, for the bright colors and uniquely drawn style, expecting nothing more than to be part of the select few who could proudly boast, “Oh yeah, of course, I’ve seen NGE, who hasn’t?” After finishing the first episode, I felt not just inspired but compelled to write my own fictionalized piece about giant mechas fighting otherworldly monsters. Days after finishing the series, images kept flashing in my mind--A fight scene. A neon-soaked Strip. Hotels decimated. Only a craterous mass left in the heart of the city.

The layman would’ve most likely not pondered much after watching NGE, only chalking up their viewing to whether it was a good or bad show. But as writers, our curiosity for everything around us, no matter how seemingly insignificant it may seem, allows the opportunity for creative flow.

Our imaginations are gluttonous. Ignore their cravings, and you’ll be left staring at a blank document, unsure of what to do.

2. Quiet the Voices and Commit

In The Forest for the Trees, Betsy Lerner outlines the publication and writing industry’s ins-and-outs by providing her unique perspective as a well-seasoned publishing editor. The book’s first chapter, titled “The Ambivalent Writer,” highlights the writers fearful of self-doubt and who focus too heavily on whether their ideas will be well perceived. As Lerner says,

“The ambivalent writer is often so preoccupied with greatness, both desiring and believing that every sentence he commits to paper has to last for eternity, that he can’t get started.”

Do these feelings sound familiar? As writers (and I’m guilty of this, myself), we often stall our writing pursuits out of the fear of failure. It’s as if there’s a brick wall in front of us. When we open a Word Document or take out a pen and paper, we spend less time writing and instead, choose to internalize our feelings of grandeur alongside gripping paranoia over a lack of success.

So how do we quiet these self-doubts and commit to the visions in our heads? Take a look at another quote from Lerner:

“You will never finish any piece of writing if you don’t understand what motivates you to write in the first place and if you don’t honor that impulse, whether it’s exile or assimilation, redemption or destruction, revenge or love.”

As she demonstrates, allowing yourself to ruminate over what inspires you is one way to push yourself to write and dismiss the voices stopping you.

Think about the emotions within and the experiences you’ve lived; these aspects are an untapped bounty worthy of writing about. Next, decide who you are writing for. This means acknowledging whether you’re writing for personal fulfillment or publication.