Writing Hacks, Part 1: Starting

By Scott Berkun, Aug. 28 2006 (#54)

Writing is easy, it’s quality that’s hard. Any idiot who knows 5 words can write a sentence. It might be sloppy, confusing, or inaccurate but it is still writing. This means when people struggle to start writing they’re likely imagining the polished precision of the finished work. This is the trap. Thinking about the end at the beginning makes the clumsy junkyard that all beginnings must be difficult to accept.

While it’s true that good voice, tone, rhythm, ideas and grammar are essential to good writing, they’re never introduced all at once. I promise you that the first draft of Strunk and White didn’t follow Strunk and White. The secret, if you can’t start, is to begin without constraints. Deliberately write, badly if you have to, but write.

For this reason writer’s block is a sham. Anyone who wrote yesterday can write today, it’s just a question of if they can do it to their own satisfaction. It’s not the fear of writing that blocks people, it’s fear of not writing well; something quite different. Certainly every writer has moments of doubt, but the way out is to properly frame what’s going on, and writer’s block, as commonly misunderstood, is a red herring.

Consider this: Have you ever been blocked while playing Frisbee? Eating doughnuts? Dancing naked in your living room? Those are joyful things and there’s nothing at stake: if you fail, who cares? Nobody. If there are no rules, and no judgment, psychological blocks are impossible. And remember writers like making up names and overthinking things: there is no term for architect-block, painter-block, juggler-block or composer-block. Every creative pursuit faces similar pressures, but they don’t obsess about it the way writers seem to do.

So play. Loosen up. Smile. Break the framework that’s making it impossible to start. Forget the deadline and the assignment and just be an open mind with a pen. Remember that until you say you’re finished, you can break all the rules. If you can’t get started, your psychology is making the challenge bigger than you can handle. Thinking of the book, the chapter, the page, the paragraph, is all too big if while you’re thinking, the page remains blank. Like a weightlifter out of his class, a writer with a blank page needs to lighten the load.

Writing hacks for starting

In the grand tradition of lists and books of hacks, writing hacks are clever little actions that give you leverage and put the dynamics in your favor. Here in part 1 it’s all about how to start.

Start with a word. The first goal is to get one word on the page. It can be any word, but you have to choose it, and put it down. I’m partial to the ridiculous[1], so for me it’s often Papaya, Pomegranate or Throat-warbler-man-grove (If you’re thinking that’s not a word, go back two paragraphs). If one word was easy, go for two. Still feeling lucky? Go for a small sentence. It doesn’t matter what the words are, but get them down. Write the lyrics to the song on the radio, the names of people you’ve slept with, your favorite Dr. Seuss lines, it just doesn’t matter. Once all the magic muscles in your little fingers get going, you’ll soon find yourself, in between rounds of one fish blue fish, writing some intelligent things. If your energy fades, repeat. Return to the unit of writing anyone can do, and build up again.

Write about how it feels not to be able to write. It’s sneaky, but damn, this works every time. The voice in our heads is always saying something, so put it down. Writer-weenies call this free writing, implying something unfortunate about other kinds of writing, but I find it easier to think of as listening. Imagine yourself as a recording device, writing down the radio broadcast of some other person who happens to live in your head. If you think this is weird, write about why it’s weird (See: you can’t lose – there’s always a way). Eventually your mind will hit thoughts on the topic itself and, presto, you’re on your way.

Have a conversation. Since you can’t get “converse with a friend” block, call up your buddy and talk. Get their opinions on whatever you’re writing, or throw them a bit of yours. Take notes about the conversation. Guess what? You’ve started writing. Friends are too busy? Go to a café or bar. I’ve found that if you tell bartenders you’re a writer, after they stop laughing, they’ll happily chat and occasionally give you free drinks. In a pinch, or if you’re a loner, talk with your dog. No dog? Create an imaginary friend (or three). Perhaps I’m insane, but I talk to myself all the time, and sometimes I even like the answers. If you know a writer friend, be writer buddies, available by phone to help each other get started.

Read something you hate. Opinions come easy to me, but some days I’m as indifferent as the wind. To get started I’ll read things that I can’t stand, express opinions in violent opposition to mine[2] and, when pressed, are written so poorly my eyes burn straight through the pages. A paragraph of outstanding tripe is intellectual smelling salts. It puts me on my feet, sticking and jabbing like Muhammad Ali, raving and ranting on the page. I can rarely use those first rant-laden riffs, but it puts me in the ring. Sometimes its love you need, so go to your masters: Emerson, Fitzgerald, Orwell, King, get your nose into whoever’s writing get you jazzed. Writers often write about writing[3], a trick few arts can follow; so reflective motivation from writers is easy to find.

Warm up. Do you imagine Olympic sprinters wake up and immediately sprint around the house? Of course not (unless they drank too much the night before). No one performs well without easing muscles and emotions into place. And everyone warms up differently. Sometimes responding to e-mail works because hey, that’s a kind of writing. Or type the alphabet forwards and backwards. Maybe revise something old and unfinished to get warm. My ritual is to type in quotes from good books I’ve read to get the fingers in rhythm and my mind thinking good writer thoughts. More exercises here and here.

Make lists. Nonfiction often starts for me as bulleted lists. I imagine what things the finished work would answer, how it would do it and I write it down. Not that I know how to fill them, but what might good section headings be? List making is never as threatening as “writing”, so go there first (There is no shopping list block, is there?). I kick the list around for awhile, changing, moving, shuffling, and then once it has critical mass, I put in a document and go. And I’m always ready to leave the list, and my plan behind, if I find a sweet spot: the list is a tool, not a contract. I have dozens of essay ideas in various states of list form, in a Moleskine, slowly growing until they’re ready.

Switch to something harder. My wife is an artist, and for years she’s worked on two paintings at the same time, switching between them. Why? When she’s hit a wall on one project, the second project is a godsend: it’s an escape that’s still productive. I use this hack as follows: when stuck on project A, including not being able to start, I’ll joyfully switch to project B, thinking I’m pulling one over (on myself of course, but even the idiocy of self-delusion is tolerable to the acid misery of returning to A). But 20 minutes later when I hit a wall on Project B, a wall that, by comparison, seems like the Maginot line, I’m more than happy to return to A, even if it’s a blank page. I’ve forgotten A’s particular horrors, and jump in, possibly over the hurdle that seemed impossible before.

Run like hell. I can’t write if my body isn’t happy and my body feels happy when it has been used: it likes to run or lift or almost anything. So think physical: let your body get out the stresses that block your mind. Go for a run, mow the lawn, chase your cat, do something to get your body moving, and your mind relaxed. If you move your body, your mind will follow. Maybe take a bath, get a massage, have sex, anything physical and positive. If you get into the activity enough I bet you’ll have a moment when your body is finally happy enough to let your mind do its work.

Whiskey. Yes, alcohol is writing’s seductive little mistress. A well timed shot of whiskey can work wonders for the jittery, neurotic mind. It’s the shock to the system that works for me, so when I can’t start, there are alcohol free alternatives to get things flowing: a cold shower, an underwear clad run up the driveway, a shot of espresso, a peek at my naked wife, the list goes on. Don’t depend on these (as the more you use, the less they work, except for the last one), but occasionally they’re the only way.

Rummage your scrap pile. In 1994 I started writing a novel[4]. By this I mean I created a word document named “My Novel”, hit save and then got drunk with friends. The next day, terrified as I was to return, I created a second document, called “My Novel – notes”. And in there I wrote down every idea that came to me about what might be in the novel. Only had one at first (“The narrator gets drunk. And then…well…hmmm”) but more came the next day. It was a hard core rule: If I had any idea at any time, I wrote it down immediately. No exceptions (Thus, the moleskine). I’d think of snippets of dialog, lines of narrative, names for characters, or bits of plot, and stick them in, rarely looking at the previous bits. Eventually I had enough material to psyche myself up for the dive back into “My novel” as it wasn’t a blank page anymore.

Smart writers have stockpiles of old ideas to arm themselves against the evils of the blank page. When stuck, rummage. Laugh at the goofy ideas. Groan at the pretentious ones (there will be many). Feel the occasional awe of not remembering writing something that shines or happens to fits your blank page. Like a flea market or garage sale, let ideas feel cheap, light and easy to throw around. If you can do that, new work will get off the ground almost on its own.

[1] I sometimes write “I have nothing to say” and repeat it on the page. I’ll go and go until I get so pissed off that I decide it’s less painful to write something real than it is to watch myself type this idiotic phrase forever. We always have something to say: we’re just not always brave enough to say it. A little self torture can sometimes bring it out.

[2] True story. This essay started when someone sent me a link to this essay on When you can’t get started, which you might like, but I had trouble with. Halfway through I had so many ideas I jumped into a blank page and didn’t stop until I had a draft of much of this essay. Mind you, as a writer I know this subject well, and had done plenty of thinking on this topic beforehand.

[3] By the act of writing “writers often write about writing” I’m writing about writers often writing about writing, which means you’re reading about writing about writers writing about writing. Say that ten times fast and I’ll give you a cookie.

[4] I wrote the novel on and off for 10 years, and finished in 2005 (with draft #5). Currently unpublished.

Further advice: 

I thought for sure there would be many essays titled “writing hacks” but I only found one when I wrote this. Most links are to things about writing code hacks.


312 Responses to “Writing Hacks, Part 1: Starting”

  1. Anonymous

    hello Mr Barkun
    I really need some inspiration and motivation for a story I am desperate to write. I have a plot together and not stuggled with the names but I really need an impactful first chapter. Are there any tips you know on when you want to have an AMAZING first chappter. I’m only 14, but please don’t underestimate me. I wish nobody did. On paper I seem like a little timid girl but I am keen and confident. Plz help!

  2. Katlyn Kizzee

    I have been wanting to write since I was really young, well since I could write, and I have started several books, but never finished them. I was always worried about whether or not people would want to read them, and I was worried about rejection. I love to write fantasies and whatnot so this article was extremely helpful. I’m 19 and hopefully will eventually, not only finish a book, but get it published as well.

  3. Unknown

    Like many others who read this article, you really helped inspire me to turn my ideas and names and dialogue into a book. I think actually materializing a story that has just been hopelessly floating around in your head is a challenge. Gosh, I’m definitely going to try all of your tips:) thanks!

  4. Dan Waterouse

    Sorry I don’t have too much to say here; I just wanted to be writing about reading about writing about writers writing about writing.

    But on a more serious note, this really was very useful. Thank you!

  5. mia robles

    hello :D just wanted to say that i find this easy to read and enjoyable. thanks for the tips. it gave me lots of insipiration :D that it make me want to write though it’s 3 am. now that’s my dilemma being inspired though i need to go to sleep :( hehe thanks :D

  6. Tony Roundtree

    Ever since I was about 4 or 5 I’ve had this story in my head that I would go to and mess with and play out for my own amusement, and only recently thought to start writing it down. My problem is not getting started, it’s more like when I start putting the ideas to paper (well my computers Notepad) I start to feel like I’m sharing something personal and I guess I get greedy and don’t want to share my story with anyone. I’m working on overcoming my natural shyness, just wondering if you (or well anybody) ever had the same problem before and how you beat it.

  7. Katie

    I’m only 14 but I really want to be a writer, ALL the time I start unconsciously making up stories in my head, just little bits of ones, and if I end up being able to write it down I don’t know how to elaborate on it because it’s like the middle of a story, any help?

  8. Therese Broman

    Hi first i just want to say that this have help me a lot. I have been trying for years to write a book but have never gotten past a page.
    My story plots are often lame and over used like many writers do books about there teenage years in high school and that is something i want to do.
    My teachers in art school tells me to do what i know and see but it’s really hard. I want to tell others my story because I lived it and know i want to put everyone behind me. I’m looking for a great tip it’s really had to start do you have any great tips or is the idea just to common?
    I also want to say thanks to you this page got me to think about my old book ideas, hope you have time to answer.

  9. Silvi

    Can I implant you in my head and have you on repeat? I need to have this repeated to me pretty much on a regular base. It all comes down to discipline and sadly I am my own worst enemy. I rebel against myself. I think I’ll have to start most days reading this if I want to have any writing done. I must say thank you!

  10. CELL

    I am trying to write a book from the age of nine. Now I am eighteen. My native language isn’t English. So, I think in my native language and then translate it into English.
    Whenever I read things after I write them I always tear the pages. Well there are so many problems. I will make a list.
    1. Vocabulary and grammar
    2. Fulfilling my parents expectations about study and my expectations about writing at the same time.
    3. Telling my parents I don’t wanna do stupid engineering , I want to become a writer.
    4. I cant control on reading. Once I start reading something it is difficult to do anything else. (I have read three books in two days)
    5. Whenever I create an outline of the story. I come up with so many variations that it is difficult to choose.
    Hope you will understand what I am trying to say. Please help me. It felt good to talk with you. Thank you.

    1. Scott

      Hi Bhandari:

      These problems are entirely normal. Most people who try to write have problems like these. Writing is challenging.

      The way successful writers handle these challenges is very straightforward: they deal with each issue one at a time. You are probably imagining there is some way to make these questions and challenges go away. There isn’t. Not all at once. You have to plan to revise and write multiple drafts of whatever you are working on. In each draft take on a different issue, fully expecting you’ll have to write several more drafts to work on other issues.

      #1 is easy. Vocabulary and grammar are easy to improve. There are many books you can find on both.
      #2 Has nothing to do with writing. You have to decide for yourself what you want to do with your time on this planet.
      #3 Same as above. I’d hope your parents want you to have a happy life, more than they want you to have a specific job that makes you miserable.
      #4 If you are out of control you’ll likely have problems committing to anything :)
      #5 It doesn’t matter which way you choose. Only you, the writer, even knew there were other ways the story could go. You could could pick any choice and it would be fine. And even if you make a choice and you don’t like it after a few pages you can edit those pages out and make a different choice. You’re not writing on stone tablets. You can edit, revise, redo and change as much as you want to whenever you want.

  11. Random Guy

    You sir, you are extremely, and i mean EXTREMELY good at expressing not only tone but feelings too. Teach me, Master

  12. Susan

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! I have had an idea for a novel in my head for years and, lately, think about it every day. Problem is, I’ve been too scared to sit down and start on it because I don’t know where to begin! Your article has given me the courage to do something because I now realize it doesn’t have to be perfect or even make sense the first (or third) time I give it a go. Thanks for the laughs and putting my mind at ease. You are a fantastic writer! :)

  13. Jerry Applewhite

    I am attempting to write a children’s book. It is hard not to start the sentence with the boys name, or “he”, or “they”. I am going to get this book written if I do nothing else. I am disabled and have wanted to do this for about 5 or 6 years now. Thanks for the info. I am going to be looking for insight around the net for about a week or so, then I am going to get at it.

    Jerry Applewhite

  14. sale

    Thanks for any other wonderful article. The place else may anyone get that type
    of information in such a perfect approach of writing?
    I’ve a presentation next week, and I am on the search for such information.

  15. Gary Allen

    30 years ago I was involved as a state environmental worker on a case that,to this day, troubles me. There was a death that was ruled suicide but at the time and even more now I feel it was murder. I want to write about it but I’m not sure where to begin. The environmental case was so bizarre it made it on local and national news stations and nationally on the show That’s Incredible. Any help you can give?

  16. rinat

    I’m french but write in englsh most of the time, which is not easy. I use onelook and frazeit tools. Onelook has a reverse dictionary that I like. As for frazeit this is a real sentence search engine. They have context and source search that is quite powerful.

  17. CoolKid

    Hi. I’m a 11 year old girl and I started liking writing patterns and how people can write 800 paged books and publish them for people, for their enjoyment. I actually started getting ideas of titles of books when I was 9 years-old and then I started writing down bit by bit of some books when I was 10 then when I turned 11 I already completed about 14 pages of the first book I was actually entruiged by. In my opinion the hardest thing is when you accidentely rush your story a bit and also filling up each individual page with intresting material. The first few books I started but deleted from my computer were all make-believe and I can’t really make a real story, like a story where real things actually happen with real people and that sort of thing. I will try my best, but I also realized that I do a lot of research on how to spell words what the best way to use them is or what they mean. I’m very good with research. No wonder my favorite subject is English, I LOVE TO WRITE! If you have any advice for me for whatever please e-mail me. Thank you so much.

  18. Gaurdian Dogs

    Thank you, very useful information.You can’t break rules if there are none!Really improved my writing.

  19. Giselle Arrington

    What a terrific sounding book – the water cycle is cool in and of itself and a book which teaches it in such a fun poetic way is mega-cool.

  20. Jacqueline roffey

    I’ve always wanted to write a book,about my life.iv had quite a hard one and iv managed to come out the other side smiling.Alot of my friends have said I should,I’m rubbish with my grammar too.I love reading and I adore books ,please help I’m sorry I’m sure you’ve lots of emails like this one.Many Thanks Jacqueline x

  21. John McElfresh

    Thanks for inspiring me. I always want to write because I’m a pretty intelligent KID ( I’m not very humble (or modest, or is it flip flopped)) but I’ve never got a chance to make a chapter more than three sentences. Another tip for everyone who reads this is I’ve personally tried playing a video game or watching a movie because if you see one topic you like, you can put it in a book or it may remind you of something else that relates to something that relates to something in your book. Once an idea gravitates somewhere, there is no stopping it. I always used to joke that you could carry on a conversation that starts about cats and ends up being about a piece of china you bought. It starts about cats, than ( again, is it then or than, if I want to be a good writer, I have to find the difference between then and than, along with who and whom. ) it gravitates towards fishes, then worms, then dirt. It goes on and on and on because someone says one misplaced word and you aren’t talking about the same thing anymore. See, just did that and you may not have noticed. But, the important thing is that ideas can get started from anywhere, a dream, a comment on the street, a word in the news. Anything.

    1. John McElfresh

      I meant I just did that not just did that after See.

    2. Nikhil Khandekar

      I’d imagine being in the company of oneself, having oneself all to oneself, as a better place to start writing. Then on, it’s easier to write. If you are purposed in life to write, what could be better? I’d be distracted by a video game or a movie unless it touched a chord deep within. I’d write only on what was closest to my heart at the time that I wrote. This too.

    3. Nuala

      Not very humble or modest but with a lot to be humble or modest about

  22. John McElfresh

    I meant “post” not “posts” after ” I meant ” I meant” I just did that after See” during my previous posts. I HATE TYPOS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” I HATE TYPOS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  23. David Lee

    This is outstanding, you have opened my eyes!
    I’ve been writing javascript and have been wondering why I bother.

    My son has told me I should write a book about my life.

    I don’t have a problem putting words down but I’m terrible with spelling and starting a title for the book. I think I see now that if I start writing the “Title” will come in time (Just write)

    1. Maddy Brown

      i have a title and like a chapter of my book, but i also have been working on my book since i was in high school, and 5 or 6 years later i still am writing, it takes work….. one of these days i will finish it, and it will be the biggest goal i have achieved, and it will be my book.

    2. Anonymous

      bad at spelling must have led to some rough debugging in development

  24. James Brace

    Thank you so much. I’ve had the idea for my book for over 20 years, and in that time the idea has grown but I have yet to make it past the title and the outline. After reading this, I wrote the first two chapters finally! They need some polishing, but at least I’ve finally started writing!

  25. jeffrey corbett

    I have had a very odd and hard life. i tell people about it and everyone says to write a book. I don’t care about the money. I don’t care about much anymore. But I think there are other people who are trying to deal with similar problems in life and I don’t mind talking to people and telling why I act and do things like I do. I have found if I don’t I just come across as a freak. But I’m afraid tout things on paper . I don’t want to upset other peoples lives, and it will. I have bin thru a lot that is either not legal or not except able or just plain mean and evil . I need to do something with what I have went and am going thru but it is unbelievably painful for me and if put out wrong could make life dangerous . But I think it would help me and others? Maybe wrong place to even ask this. I don’t read books . I don’t see the story in my head , I see words black and white words , no pictures in my head. My sister loves to read and I could never figure out why . It has to relate to my life . If you have any ideas . I would love the help. I do much better at talking. I need to get it out for myself and I would hope to help others. I need someone to help me since it’s to emotional on my own to deal with. Sorry if I have wasted your time. If you read this and respond than I thank you for letting me waste your time and you being kind enough to give me the time of day.

    Thanks Jeff

    1. Nikhil Khandekar

      I wouldn’t be so sure about hurting other people’s sentiment all on my personal venture. I wouldn’t want to hurt ’em, to be sure. But I wouldn’t be so cocky as to suppose my writing would be directly and solely responsible for hurting them or upsetting their lives.

      You see, things are often left unsaid between people. If others came to understand how exactly everyone around felt, it might not really be the disaster we imagine it to be. For example, if I found out that my neighbor hated me but was unable to tell it to my face out of his own benevolence, I wouldn’t be in a position to do much about it, would I now? On the other hand if he came over one day, sat down, had a cup of tea and told me all, I’d be willing to help him even if he didn’t have very positive things to say about me. If he kept mum, I couldn’t help him to save my life.

      Words are more flexible than the best acrobat at Olympics. Turn them to good use; write from the heart – you have plenty to offer, since you’ve had a hard life. Let those that can benefit do so. There will be those that feel upset just to watch you amble across your porch to the door. Sentient being always have a choice, and none of them have much of a say in how other feel.

      That’s why, I think you should give it a go. Finish what you have to say and then ask appropriate persons to see if it will be a good read for others. Wishing you all that’s best.

    2. Laurie

      Jeff, I know what you mean – I’ve got tons to get off my chest too and it’s not the best of subjects. Writing has helped so much, even if you’re not the best at it. We are only as sick as our secrets…

    3. Amanda

      I have lived a hard life too. Much of what you say, though vague, I can understand and know all too well. Writing about something doesn’t mean you have to publish it. However, if you do want to publish what you write, rather than thinking of it as pain towards someone else, perhaps you might try looking at how those things made you feel and how you over came them. Surviving is a triumph over pain, even when we can’t believe or even see it ourselves. I write about the horrors of my life quite often and many have told me the same as you. “You should write a book.” Letting it out, onto paper or computer screen… sometimes it seems the only way to allow myself to scream. Don’t let what you think others might feel about what you are writing, stop you from doing it. Just do it, then decided what you want to do with what you have written, after it is no longer within you, tearing you apart.

    4. Michele

      Yes it is igniting the fire of devil may care, to embolden ourselves with the our hidden desire and beliefs to fan the fire with our passion and hope that the flames warm our own imaginations and hearts and to raise the beast of burden with courage telling him his services are no longer needed and that it is about catching the moment and riding the wind I see now that I an ready and am well equipped , Thankyou Scott you are an exceptional man xxx

  26. Armand

    Thanks Scott for this brilliant kick in the ass…..”Excuses Whisperer” you…..

  27. Parrish

    Well…. since it’s so damn easy I guess I’ll just start writing. Thanks! :)

  28. Salman Memon

    Great Guide
    I am very bed in English.
    But actually I just started writing for my own self. Without thinking about anyone else.
    I am happy.
    God bless and a very big thanks.

  29. Jessica

    Personally, I have a some other methods. Which, is to act like my characters feel. If I’m stuck and my character is supposed to get hurt, I lay on the floor and pretend I can’t get up, I also fake cry if they’re sad and fake laugh when they’re supposed to be happy. (Only when I’m alone)
    Also, be insane. run in circles, sing songs in weird ways, and eat frosted flakes at two in the morning.
    All of the above are weird but they work when desperate.

  30. Abby

    I thoroughly enjoy reading your articles. Granted I only began doing so about 45 minutes ago but I can’t seem to stop smiling and even chuckling. Your wit and humor, along with the facts and encouragement, have put my shaky hands at ease. I use to write all of the time, I stopped, I would like to write again, but I froze up all of a sudden. Thank you. I’m ready.

  31. Bernie

    Your notes on how to start writing and writing down everything remind me of how I write songs. I have tons of little ideas. You work those up into a demo form and start putting pieces together. Whenever I have had to write anything for school or whatever, I stare at a blank page or procrastinate. It’s not until I say this sentence that I start writing. “Just write” You know you’re going to change it, and edit and rough draft, but just plain starting to write is sometimes the hardest thing to do.
    Thank you for the in site.

  32. Rhiannon

    I am 15 years old and I want to write a book. I’m sure your first thought is that’s crazy. I know it is but, I love reading I could read 4 books in just one week. And I love writing , I want to share a story and stories of mine with the world. I have an idea for a book and I have absolutely no exspierence but, I defiantly have motivation . Email me please with your thoughts.


    Wanna be writer

  33. Brendon


    You owe me a cookie.

  34. Diya

    You write well because you think well. It’s when our thoughts are interesting to read that we enjoy the process of writing them. That’s also when others enjoy reading what you wrote. This blog, for example…it’s good. It’s funny but it’s got depth. Being a good writer is about being an original thinker. That’s how books become classics. Just my thoughts.

  35. The remains of what was left over

    The inability to write had been affecting Tom for most of his adult life now. How easily he had been able to conjure up a story each weekend as part of his English homework. Now he was barely capable of writing a shopping list. Day after day he would open his laptop and stare. He stared at the blank white screen which itself glared back at him, like an accuser, seeming to echo the thoughts and feelings of his long dead mother, who had berated and cajoled him into abandoning his first foray into the world of literature when he was still a young man.
    Now, 20 years later he was no closer to realising this dream, and was it seemed destined to live out this experience of life as a minion. He had behind him a string of failures, both personal, and professional. He had thought about possibly writing about these. In truth it was probably his best option as there were a number of experiences that he had been through which although almost all of which had resulted in failure, or humiliation or both they were definitely interesting enough to read about. His first attempt at this was about 10 years previous when he had been forced to move back in to his mother’s house for a few months. He had decided to write about the day that he would find out from his uncle that his father had been arrested, tried and subsequently convicted of being the first heroin dealer in his city. A terrible and traumatic experience that was probably the main cause of his inability to function as a normal human being. One day while he was out walking the dog, his mother had been using his laptop and somehow she came across the memoir.
    Her anger was matched only by her mocking and she laughed and jeered at him as she told him that no-one wanted to hear about his sissy complaints and that she could barely see straight as she read his account of that day and the turmoil that ensued as a result of being the son of a convicted drug dealer.
    Then there was his military career, and the subsequent ruin of it. He had tried many, many times to write about this as he felt that it was the only time that he had ever really fit in anywhere. Strange as after being refused entry to the Irish Army ( one of the captains interviewing him had caught him out is a stupid, silly lie). Therefore the only options left open to him were either the French Foreign Legion, or the less unorthodox choice of “taking the shilling” and joining the ranks of the British Army. He hated the French so that left him with the choice of joining up with what was still considered “the enemy” in many circles of Irish society. But he had never been able to accurately write about these experiences in a way that would keep the reader engaged.
    After thinking about these once again on a grey, rain-soaked morning , he closed the lid on his Toshiba and placing his ID badge around his neck he set out the door for another day of spirit crushing drudgery in his latest job.

    He was going to be late again. Not his fault this time, a fatal accident on the main artery that crossed the Liffey from the south to north side of the city
    A BMW had been clipped on the front by a tram as it attempted to cross a junction used by cars and trams, the force of the impact had caused the car to spin out of control and had then hit a woman who while crossing the road had stooped to tie her laces. His car was the one immediately behind the BMW. Tom got out of the car and approached the injured woman. Despite his extensive first aid training, one look at the gaping wound the poor woman had on the back of her head told him there was very little could be done. He held her hand, and told her that help was on its way. She told him that she was frightened, but not for her own life, for that of her young daughter who would now have to grow up motherless. He wasn’t sure what to say so he just held her hand tighter and told her that everything was going to be ok. She died before the ambulance could arrive
    As expected, his team leader was uninterested in the reason for him being late again and she told him that she was going to notify Human Resources and they would more than likely place him on level three corrective action (he had already been on level one and two). He shrugged, and told her he didn’t blame her as she has job to do. On the way back to his desk he found himself thinking about how he would like to fuck her one of these days. It was just a fleeting thought, not obsessive.
    Tom was a little bit intimidated by women. Especially the beautiful and successful ones.
    He was just about to finish work for the day when he got a call. The whisper told him it would be a dutch language call with a Belgian client. If there was one race of people that he despised more than the French, it would be the Belgians. Fucking Paedophiles!

  36. The remains of what was left over

    I wrote that litte thing over the course of an hour: i was supposed to be helping belgians, but well you know.
    I posted it as a “thank you” and as proff to your claim that “writers block” is a fallacy


  37. Ashley

    How is this? It is a story of an evil guy who lives in a volcano and uses things called caracots which are giant flying carrots that are deadly to help take over the world but a group of five teenage friends have to stop him.

  38. Will

    I usually get stuck in making introductions. These tips will really come in handy.

  39. Nic

    Starting has always been a struggle, and I’ve been writing for a long time.

  40. Eva

    I’ve read tons of advices on how to write a proper essay but this article has blew my mind!

    You see, I’m not a native speaker but it was always my dream to wite a interesting and useful content. During the college years I was bound to use services like http://assignmentemperor.com/ to recieve good grades and I am not proud of it (ofcourse). You said: “Experience is not necessary! Only commitment and effort!” – that is only partially true. I think experience is absolutely necessary if you learning a new culture and language.

    Anyway, thank you for your article, Scott! It’s almost 9 years old but still very and very helpful!:)

  41. Mauro Azzano

    Having spent years in the pursuit of publishers, agents and other literary types, I have finally managed to get three novels in my series to print.
    I chose to forego the self-publish route, and held out for a publishing contract.

    This weekend, I’m hosting a lecture at a library, helping fresh-faced and bright-eyed wannabe writers get the tools to complete a book.
    The advice in this article is spot-on. Well done.

  42. LUKIE

    Have a lot of interesting stories on my mind but don’t know how to pour them out in writing….Please email me if you can be of any help. luckyomorogiuwa@yahoo.co.uk

  43. David Forthoffer

    You say, “More exercises here and here.”

    Those two links are broken.

  44. Navjeet

    I had been a Profesor in Nutrition and have lot of material on Therapautic, Nutritional advice and Recipes. I want to make them togetherer and make a book and have started some work on it. I need expert advice on the subject how to go go it. Please tell me your advice.

  45. James T Rollins

    Thank you, this is exactly what I needed. How do you deal with having different moods from day to day and having that not be reflected in your work? I assume everyone goes through this, at least I hope it’s not just me. I haven’t written enough to tell yet but I fear my book will end up feeling like a bipolar patchwork somehow.

    1. Scott Berkun

      Most people go to work every day regardless of their mood – the goal is to have the same assumed attitude for writing. Just show up. You can revise your way out of any problem in the second (or third) draft, but only if you finish the first one.

  46. MS

    Heh. I like this. First time I’ve come across tips on beating writer’s block and getting the inspiration flowing that actually make my fingertips itch to pick up a pen (figuratively speaking – technically I would just unminimise my Word document).
    I write in patches, skipping to the interesting parts that are pleading to be written, and fill in the gaps afterwards. Can’t tell you how well it works because I’ve never yet gotten to the filling in part, but THIS time will be different (as always…)



  1. […] Sound too hard? Scott Berkun says, “There is no license required. No test to take. Writing, as opposed to publishing, requires almost no financial or physical resources. A pen, a paper and effort are all that has been required for hundreds of years.” He goes on to say If Voltaire and Marquis de Sade could write in prison, then you can do it in suburbia, at lunch at work, or after your kids go to sleep. Here’s some practical advice to get off the ground. […]

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