How to Start Writing

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And build a writing habit

The hardest part about writing is to get started. “I don’t know what to talk about,” “It has to be perfect on the first try,” maybe some of these thoughts seem familiar.
If you said “I want to write more” before, that might have lasted a day or two. Successful and continuous writing is about building a lasting habit.
Here are some thoughts and tips that helped me.

Writing as Identity

First of all, instead of saying or thinking, “I want to write more,” let’s view it from a different angle. Writing is not so much activity but an identity. Therefore, instead of “I want to write more,” think “I am a writer.”
You’re not just writing anymore; you are a writer. And writers work on their content frequently. It’s a different mindset and a new foundation.

Building a Writing Habit

To build the actual habit, I’m referencing a few phrases from Atomic Habits. One particular tool I’d like to highlight is the so-called implementation intention:

An Implementation Intention is a plan you make beforehand about when and where to act. That’s how you intend to implement a particular habit.

For instance, this implementation intention could look like this:

Once I made my morning coffee, I will sit down at my desk and write for 15 minutes before getting into work.

There’s a cue, “morning coffee,” and a definite time, between morning coffee and day-work. It’s paramount to be specific here. If you just said, “I’ll write a few sentences every morning,” it’s unclear when that will happen. Would that be right after you get out of bed or just before you get into the kitchen to make lunch?
In my case, it’s after I made coffee and before I start my day job.

I’m using this intention every morning.

Journaling as a starting point

But often, I sit in front of my editor and don’t know what topic I should focus on. I could start a new file for topic A but quickly discard it because I don’t have enough material or motivation. The same happens for topics B and C. That’s just frustrating and unproductive. If you can relate to this behavior, you’ll be interested to hear my solution.

I use VSCode and Foam to organize my content. Foam has a feature called “Open Daily Note.” On days where I don’t have a specific topic in mind, I open the daily note and start writing. Often, it’s a potpourri of several points and thoughts. After a few lines, I usually begin to find my narrative and topic of the day and follow through.

On some days, I leave it like that; a collection of random thoughts. On other days, I might move the core thought into a new file and start refining it more to publish it. (That’s how this blog post started!)
There are a few reasons this works so well:
First of all, the document already has a headline, the date. So I can start typing without focusing on a title (usually coming up with a title comes last anyways).

Even if you have thoughts such as “Oh, now I’m just journaling.”, that’s okay. It helps to tease out some ideas and start writing, removing the mental overhead of “I need to produce something high-quality right away.” Instead, I can explore and see where my thoughts lead me. Some might get published; other drafts will stay in the journal folder indefinitely.

Conclusion

Writing is not just an activity anymore but an identity. If you are a writer, you regularly sit down and write.
The first few pieces might not be on the quality level they should be. And that’s okay. The quality will increase over time once you write frequently.