Why is the Hardest Part of Writing, Starting? Why, Why, Why?

Start - the race starts here!
Photo credit: Flickr user antwerpenR

Starting is agony.

This is true for so many things in life besides writing, isn’t it?

Starting something- whether it’s a book, a family, life in a new place- is just plain difficult.

It’s not hard to imagine what it’ll be like in the thick of this new thing, but it’s sometimes hard to take the first step necessary to get there.

I admire the people who brush their fears aside and do the things they’re afraid (and therefore meant) to do. You know the type: they’re energy is generally high, they plow through obstacles without a second thought, and they’re not afraid to make a mistake or start something over with a better plan of attack.

These people get shit done.

I’ve always had the desire to be like that in every aspect of life. Sometimes, that screw-fear-let’s-do-this! attitude comes naturally. I wanted my MFA, so I applied to schools, got in, and  barreled through the program with glee. Same with buying a house, planning a wedding, adopting a dog, starting my freelance writing business. Sometimes I see the goal clearly, understand the steps I need to take, and just do it.

But then there’s this book.

I’m hesitant to even call it that right now. It’s more of an idea that’s spread into a bigger idea that’s stalled in place.

A few months ago when I finally sat down to start writing, I had that fearless attitude that one needs when facing a creative task like writing something, short story or novel or screenplay or poem. I just started writing.

Then I stopped, of course, 7,500 words in. What was I doing? No, seriously. What was I doing? What if I screwed this up? What if I wasted all this time writing something that was a piece of crap? What’s the point in that?

NaNoWriMo is next month. In 11 short days I’m going to strap myself in for the madness that is National Novel Writing Month. Why? Because this story isn’t going anywhere on its own. Because deadlines light a fire under my ass that I sometimes really need in order to see past my self-doubts. Because I want to write this story, I want to know these characters better, and I want to do it soon.

50,000 words isn’t really a complete novel by industry standards. But it’s a pretty decent start. And sometimes, what we need to keep the fire stoked and our wheels spinning towards the end goal is a start– a fearless one, where there’s just no space to hesitate.

How do you deal with starting something new, whatever it may be? Do you find that it’s easier for you to start some creative projects versus others? Share with me in the comments. 


7 thoughts on “Why is the Hardest Part of Writing, Starting? Why, Why, Why?”

  1. My goodness, I know exactly what you mean. I’ve never taken on a project like writing a novel (whoa! exciting!) but with something even as small as a blog post, I have a lot of trouble getting the ball rolling. You know what I finally figured out that works for me? I start in the middle. Then, I write the end. Then I’ll go back, and the beginning practically writes itself. (I’m sure this is a totally unsactioned practice among real writers!) It’s like I’m tricking my brain into thinking the beginning is already written, and I can now just blast through the easy stuff.

    I have the same problem with painting too, though this trick doesn’t work as well in that scenario 🙂

    Love your post! Looking forward to reading more 🙂


    1. I love that method, Adriana! I used to be a writing tutor in college, and that was a technique I told students about all the time. For so many of them, just getting the first line of their essay down on paper was agonizing, so I told them to start in the middle or even with the end. It’s much easier to start something if you know where it’s going, so outlining or picking it up in the middle is such a great way to generate a beginning.

      Thanks for the comment!! 🙂


  2. Love this post, K! I find myself in a similar situation, let’s say, um, often. Sometimes it helps for me to just get out of the house and switch up my venue. That could mean just taking a walk or it could mean going to my favorite coffee shop. And sometimes I just have to disassociate myself from the whole thing, and wait until late at night to dig in again (when I am less lucid and less apt to justify why I shouldn’t carry on). Have you thought about writing it as though you are just writing it for someone? And that one person is the only reader it will ever have, but will absolutely be so taken aback that you wrote this whole piece just for them, there could be no bigger reward? Sometimes I try that with J. in mind, because I know he is both a friendly face and a friendly reader.

    You are amazing for taking this on, the story will be amazing, and I for one, CAN’T WAIT to celebrate its finish!


  3. Give yourself permission to fail, we learn more from our mistakes than our successes, so if you remove a lot of that expectation and say, hey just go for it, it doesn’t matter – maybe this is going to be a short story, maybe its just the things I need to write out to get to the thing I really want to write.

    One of the things I discovered is that once you get deep into writing fiction, that conscious mind that is so critical and has so much to say, quiets down and then the power of the subconscious rises, thats where your storytelling ability lies, so go deep and don’t doubt it, or judge it, allow it the opportunity to develop its voice.

    Good luck and just keep going, don’t be hard on yourself and be kind to that voice in the deep.


    1. Thanks so much for your encouraging comment, Claire! When I get past that very heady, conscious, ego place when I’m writing, it feels almost like hitting a stride during a run. The subconscious is a much friendlier, open place to be during a writing session. It’s like trying to get past a dragon at the gates of some beautiful kingdom.

      Your comment reminds me of a Virginia Woolf quote I recently came across on Dani Shapiro’s blog: “My bread bakes well. All is rather rapt, simple, quick, effective–except for my blundering on at The Waves. I write two pages of arrant nonsense, after straining; I write variations of every sentence; compromises; bad shots; possibilities; till my writing book is like a lunatic’s dream. Then I trust to some inspiration on re-reading; and pencil them into some sense. Still I am not satisfied. I think there is something lacking. I sacrifice nothing to seemliness. I press to my center.”

      Pressing to that center is what I’ve got to let myself do. It’s difficult! Working on my MFA thesis was agonizing at times because it was so hard to shut off the conscious brain and step into that center where beauty comes from. Thanks for your perspective on this, Claire. I’ll definitely think about it a lot now!


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