The sun is lowering beyond the hedge, glancing off the bonnets of passing cars. Beside me is a half-drunk cup of tea in a pink mug. A Julian Cope song runs from my headphones into my ears. In my mouth is the aftertaste of a chocolate chip cookie. The air in this early evening room is dense, warm, dusty. I fiddle with the stacking rings on my right hand, and glance up at a fat grey pigeon on a naked tree branch. I think of you, and begin to type…
All I did there was sit down and give you my moment. I wrote what I could see, hear, taste, and touch in a particular time and place. Did you feel as if you were ‘with’ me at my desk? From what I wrote could you guess something of my gender, age, class, and the kind of place I live, even though I didn’t really tell you anything about myself?
Starting to write can seem hard. We might have a pristine notebook and a posh pen, or an expectant expanse of laptop screen, and we think we have to write something beautiful or meaningful. We don’t. Life – real or imagined – is just a series of moments. All writers do is capture those moments and string them together, like threading beads to make a necklace. And you can do that, too.
The book that got me writing was Natalie Goldberg’s brilliant Writing Down the Bones, which I urge you to read if you can get hold of a copy. But in the meantime, here are three basic principles Natalie puts forward, which are really all you need to start you off on your own writing journey:
Make writing your practice, like exercise. Don’t wait for the muse to strike, instead make a commitment with yourself to sit down at a certain time and write, whether you feel like it or not.
Use timed sessions to help you build up your writing muscles. Be kind to yourself. Start easy – maybe even just ten minutes writing at a time to begin with – and work up to longer sessions when you’re ready.
Just write! Within your timed session, don’t cross out, don’t worry about grammar, spelling or punctuation – keep your hand moving and don’t stop to think.
You don’t need to start at the beginning of your story. You can start at the end, or dive right into the middle of the action. But you need to start with a moment – the moment when something begins, ends or changes. What’s that moment in your story?
Try this: Close your eyes and think about the point in your story where something is going to change. Think about what you can see, touch taste, smell and hear in that moment, and what’s about to happen. Write down: “In that moment…” and just keep going, for ten minutes, without stopping, and see where it takes you.
Good luck, and let me know how you get on.