Seven Tips for Starting a Writing Practice—Even if You’ve Never Written Before

by Cheryl Kain

I started journaling when I was 12. Since then, I’ve learned that many people want to write but think they can’t. In my years of being in and leading writing groups, I’ve heard, “I want to write the book that’s inside of me, but I don’t know how to start,” more times than I can count. The fear that writing is just too hard has prevented countless creatives from daring to face the blank page.

Here’s how I do it. After getting up and doing my morning routines, I sit down with my laptop or journal. “Body, sitting in chair” is a fundamentally helpful tip. Just showing up and starting, before my inner editor has a chance to judge and analyze. I write whatever comes. I commit to five minutes. It doesn’t have to be pretty, logical, or ready for anyone else to read. It doesn’t matter if I write, “I don’t want to write. I can’t write. I’d rather go for a walk.” It’s still me, writing. An example:

What a dream I had. Can’t remember… I don’t want breakfast/it’s too late to sleep on a Saturday/I want to go back to bed. Oh, why do I judge myself? I want the sun to shine again and have to go grocery shopping. I wonder what time the party starts. I feel like my writing is epically bad. Who cares?

And so it goes.

“I don’t like it when people say, ‘I just journal,’—journaling is writing,” says Kripalu presenter Nancy Slonim Aronie, author of Writing From the Heart and a commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered.

“Creativity requires safety,” adds Nancy, who won the teacher of the year award for all three years she taught at Harvard University. “I have one rule: When someone finishes reading, we tell them what we loved. If something moved you, that’s what we tell the writer. My goal is to get you juiced and inspired so you can find your own voice.”

The most beautiful part of leading writers’ retreats, Nancy says, is witnessing bonds of trust and intimacy form among participants. “I watch them fall in love with each other. They find out that they are not alone. They have experienced what everyone else has, just with different details. We find out somebody’s innermost heart, soul, and being. People just bloom. Everybody leaves excited about their writing.”

Years ago, I wanted to write my own novel. It took me seven years to write three chapters. Along the way, I’ve put together some tips.

Write for yourself. Just for its own sake. I like to “write for the wastebasket.” As in, not only does my writing not have to be perfect—it doesn’t even have to be good! Write because you deserve to see and feel your voice on paper or the computer screen.

People watch. Observe life. No experience—however odd, tragic or confusing—is wasted on a writer.

Write from your deepest self. Dare to write what moves you, frightens you, makes you deeply sad, or makes you ecstatic. Write from that place where the real you exists.

Let go of expectations. Forget about your potential Pulitzer Prize, or making a living, or even writing a whole book. Your writing is a place to play, a place where there are no rules, a place to experiment and step out of your everyday role.

Start small. It all counts. In the beginning, I committed to sitting in a chair for just five minutes in the morning. I didn’t write; I just sat. Sometimes, I wrote nonsense for five minutes. The consistency of the routine started becoming familiar, even comfortable. Eventually I wrote more. Writing can be a strangely beautiful process, and even thinking about writing can lead to writing.

Write to express the inexpressible. Write to release your fears. Write to get in touch with your feelings. Write to relive an amazing experience. Write to your best friend. Carry a “mobile journal” so that, when the urge strikes, you can jot down what’s arising.

Use prompts. Here are a few I’ve used to spark writing:

  • What brings you joy?
  • What makes you sad?
  • What is a secret dream or goal you have?
  • The last time I was amazed by someone, it was…
  • Write about someone you miss dearly
  • Write about what you don’t want to do,

Everyone has a voice, and every voice is unique and deserves to be seen and heard—mostly by you.

Cheryl Kain is a writer, teacher, and singer who performed the national anthem at Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium. She's written features on Rod Stryker, Chubby Checker, Linda Eder, and more, and blogs for the Huffington Post. She’s at work on her second book, a mystery series. 

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