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  • Laura Summerhayes

The writer’s life: overcoming the fear of the first word

notepad and pen with screwed up pieces of paper

Your first day in a new job. Your first time speaking in front of an audience. Your first time heading up a department. There are firsts that we all face throughout our careers, but when it comes to the life and work of a writer there are firsts they face time and again. The very first word. The first sentence. Or your first piece of copy for a new client. Nerves, excitement, a little bit of pressure (applied from external or internal sources!), and a desire to do well, mingle in the pit of the stomach. What if nobody likes your piece? What if the words get all muddled up and nobody gets it?

Whatever your job, we all have to write sometimes. Whether you’re penning a report, your first email to your new team, or a marketing blog, the first word can feel insurmountable. The good news is that there’s only one first word. The bad news is that, as someone who writes, facing the first word is something you’ll have to do over and over.

Luckily there are ways to jump the first hurdle and sprint through the rest of the work. Whether you’re a full time or occasional writer here are three helpful tips to help you get over the fear of the first word and get stuck in.

  1. Write it all out as you think it. Writing begins with thinking, and thinking is something we all do every day without even, well, thinking about it. Whether it’s discussing an idea with a colleague, providing an explanation of quarterly results to your boss, or chatting with your friends at happy hour, these are all thoughts with the volume turned up. Next time you need to write something, write your thoughts and ideas down as they come to you, or as if you were actually speaking to your audience. Chances are you’ll already know what you want to say; put your thoughts down, get the first sentence out of the way, and then deal with how to say it later on.

  2. Try building instead of writing. It’s a universally recognised fact that houses have to be built in a certain order: you can’t put the roof on until the foundations and the supporting walls are in place. Thankfully writers are free to find which building blocks work best, and adapt the order in which they are laid down to suit us. Try working in reverse from the conclusion to the introduction, maybe you ask yourself a set of questions, which you then answer, or pretend to be a detective who must decipher what the clues mean. Experiment, and whatever you find are your preferred bricks and mortar, run with it. You’ll be so absorbed in the process of putting it all together that you’ll forget about the first word or sentence and the whole piece will be done already.

  3. Don’t touch your keyboard. In fact, don’t go anywhere near your desk. Grab a pen and a notebook and take yourself outside, to a communal work area, a café – anywhere that’s not your usual workspace. Create mind maps, bullet lists, or charts to organise your thoughts just make sure you put pen to paper. The change of scenery will take you out of work mode and let your creativity flow more freely. And physically holding a pen and seeing thoughts flow out of the nib as ink across the page creates a much stronger connection between hand and brain: you thought of these ideas, you are finding ways to say them, in short, you can do this. Removing technology can help the juices flow which increases your own confidence in your ability to create something from scratch, even those dreaded first words.

There’s no foolproof way to start writing something. Sometimes just one of these techniques is helpful, sometimes you might use a little of all of them. The important thing is to rip the plaster off and get thinking, writing and creating.

When you’re staring down the barrel of a thousand-word document those first words seem incredibly daunting: it’s easy to get into a torturous mindset and halt the process before it’s even begun. Break it down, tackle it differently or change how you do things and the thousand words will come a lot easier. And if writing is something that you’re really struggling with and you think that some professional help wouldn’t go amiss, get in touch, I’d be happy to help.

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