5 strategies to help you write an assignment, thesis or book

The thought of starting any new writing task can be a daunting one.

With only ideas in your head and nothing on paper or typed up on your computer, the sight of a blank sheet of paper or empty word document can be paralysing for many of us.

“Where do I start?” you may ask in an overwhelmed state. You may think to yourself, “Ahh, forget it. Let’s just see what’s happening on Facebook”, “I might just check my email” or “I’ll feel like writing tomorrow, it will be easier tomorrow…hey, I’ll start tomorrow!”

Have you ever had an experience like this before?

I took part in a fantastic course recently called Turbocharge your writing. It was delivered by Hugh Kearns from Thinkwell. Although the course was created for university academics and PhD students, the writing techniques are useful for all students (in High school, TAFE or university) or any working professional who needs to write as part of their job.

Below is a list of a several strategies Hugh shared to help you get into the groove of writing.

1. Write even when you don’t feel like writing

Let’s be honest with ourselves, many of us are waiting for the right moment to start writing. Perhaps we think we will be ready after we finish reading a certain article or maybe we think one day we will wake up and feel inspired to write!

Unfortunately, the movie portrayal of the inspired, passionate writer who locks themselves away for days on end in a cabin to write the perfect bestselling novel has led many of us to believe that one must feel in the right mood to write.

The reality is you may never feel ready or inspired to write. So what should you do? Hugh Kearns suggests we should just start writing anyway.

If we start writing (even if we don’t feel like it) we may find that after 30 minutes or so, as we start to make progress, that we suddenly feel slightly inspired. This in turn makes us want to keep writing.

2. Make writing a daily habit: Two golden hours worth

If you look at the lives of great writers like Stephen King and Bryce Courtney, what you’ll notice is that these people write daily. It’s an ingrained habit.

Woody Allen famously said:

“90% of success is just showing up”.

The same philosophy applies to writing. 90% of success at writing is just turning up to write!

In the Turbocharge your writing seminar, the facilitator talked about the idea of ‘assuming the position’ to write. By this, he meant sitting down either at your computer or with a pen/pencil in your hand, ready to write. That’s the first step to getting any writing done. You’re just turning up to start the writing process (and my sense is that often this can be the hardest part).

Hugh then talked about the idea of nailing your feet to the floor to force yourself to write for “Two Golden Hours”. He then warned us that during the first 45 minutes of this process, most people experience some level of anxiety and discomfort. It’s common to have thoughts such as “I can’t write this”, “I rather be doing something else” or “This is really hard…”.

This is completely normal but often what happens is people think that something is wrong when they experience this anxiety. They think that because they’re finding it hard to write, perhaps they should stop and often that’s exactly what they do. Big mistake. “If you just hang in there, the anxiety will eventually disappear” said Hugh Kearns.

3. Writing is not a linear process

It’s a myth to think you need to start at the very beginning of your piece of writing and perfect the first sentence before you go on to write the rest.

Forget the first sentence. That will come in time. I recommend putting all your ideas down on paper and work with that to begin with.

If you need to have some kind of structure in place before you begin the writing process, try jotting down your ideas on a mind map or writing each idea on post-it notes so you can shuffle them around to create a structure. Once you’ve done this, don’t think you need to start writing your introduction or the first paragraph of your essay. Start with the idea you feel most comfortable with and go from there.

4. Use writing as a form of thinking

If you’re feeling stuck, write about what you are feeling stuck about. Set your alarm for 5 or 10 minutes time and whatever comes to mind, put it down on paper.

The key is to keep your hand moving. Don’t stop writing until the alarm goes off.

Try this out and I bet you’ll be surprised with what kind of insights and creative solutions you come up with.

5. Write when you are most alert

If you are trying to make writing a daily habit, then you want to foster positive experiences writing. A few weeks ago, I tried writing at 9pm on a Friday night when I felt exhausted. How do you think that went? Not great. It was a horrible experience which ended in tears of frustration. Consequently, I didn’t pick up a pen to write for days.

The fact of the matter is writing is a complicated and mentally exhausting task. For this reason, it doesn’t make sense to write when you’re tired. Write when you feel most alert and have the energy to do so.