When You Want To Write But Can’t Get Started

If you love the idea of a journal or morning pages but never know what to write about, here are a few ideas to jumpstart your daily practice.

Several years ago, I read a bestselling book that recommended writing three pages every morning to simply warm up your creative muscles and clear your mind for the day. This was supposed to be a “brain dump” in which you wrote down anything that was on your mind and then put it aside.

After several weeks of faithfully following this advice, I realized that I was, in fact, more preoccupied with my concerns than I had been before writing about them daily. I was also bored. My concerns and negative thoughts tend to be repetitive, and they aren’t very interesting after a while. I decided that this morning routine would be better spent writing about something else. But — what? Some days I had an idea or interesting thought, but most days I struggled to make conversation with a blank page. That was when I realized that the blank page was the problem. Good ideas don’t happen in a vacuum.

I recently stumbled across an interesting fact in Scientific American. It seems that human brains developed significantly about 100,000 years ago. However, human invention didn’t really take off until 10,000 years later in Africa and 60,000 years later in Europe. What made humans suddenly start stringing necklaces out of shells and painting on cave walls? These were the historical moments in which the societies began living in large hunter-gatherer groups. Basically, when humans are exposed to new ideas (by being exposed to each other), they build on those ideas and creativity explodes.

If you’re struggling to get started with your writing, the absolute best thing you can do is give your brain something to think about.

Stimulate your brain with images or music. A landscape photograph or painting might stimulate a memory or help you imagine a new setting. A picture of a person could provoke questions or ideas about their history. And a piece of music can evoke emotion or spark an idea for a scene.

Make a list. Anyone can make a list and no one expects lists to be great. Take thirty seconds and write down everything you can think of that you could possibly write about. This list shouldn’t be terribly serious. Think: pandas, coffee, ice cream cones, why people who drive expensive cars are the worst drivers, and so on. Once your thirty minutes is up, choose something from the list and tackle it. (I’m going for pandas!)

Answer a question. What’s your worst birthday memory? What’s the best give you’ve ever received? Who was your worst teacher? Who was your best teacher? When did you feel the most lonely? Bests and worsts are a great way to jog and explore a memory. So are questions about specific emotions. Make a list of possible questions, and then answer one whenever you feel out of ideas. These memories can be fertile ground for exploring character backstories and motivations.

If you want to write a novel, memoir, or anything else, remember that writers don’t usually get an idea for a whole book all at once. They get pieces of ideas and then weave them together. If you want to write, don’t worry about the big picture — work with one thought at a time.

Lisa Papademetriou is an author, entrepreneur, and business school dropout. She’s the founder of Bookflow, a tool designed to help writers reach their goals by boosting organization and motivation. Connect with her on Facebook and Instagram. Email: lisa.papademetriou@bookflow.pub

I’d love to connect with writers eager to take their work to the next level, to encourage and help guide them using my experience as a writing instructor at the MFA level, editorial experience (at both small and Big Five publishers), and bestselling author.

Novelist. Editor. Entrepreneur. Founded a platform that helps writers motivate and organize. 🖋 Try Bookflow free for 28 days. https://tinyurl.com/tryBookflow