No truer statement has ever been made. Think about it, the headline and/or opening paragraphs of anything take the most time and cause the most pain… because there’s nothing, nothing worse than staring at a blank screen or piece of paper and expecting yourself to fill it. Frightening.
In many ways, the pain and fear can’t be avoided. Think of it this way: if you’ve ever jogged or bicycled any distance, you know the first mile or so isn’t fun… ever. There’s pain and doubt and your body hasn’t found its rhythm. But at some point down the road it all begins to work, your breathing levels out, things are fine.
Writing is the same. It takes time to get your brain in gear and your writing muscles loosened.
But there are a couple of tricks to ease the pain and/or speed the time till you’re hitting stride. Both can help, but generally I’ve found that people prefer one or the other, depending upon their personalities and styles. (I prefer #1.)
1. Think before you write! Too many of us sit down and try to write without having put any thought into what we might say. Make this common mistake and you’ll stare at that screen for hours and walk away with nothing. Take some time to THINK about where the ad or press release or article is going and don’t start writing until you have a clearer idea… save yourself the agony, doubt and inevitable self-loathing.
Most people think that writing is something like 10% thought, 80% actual writing and 10% editing. Pros know it’s one-third, one-third, one-third. On the positive side, that means less time sitting at the desk but more time thinking and polishing the finishing product. Cheat any of the three sections and your work will suffer.
2. There’s a German saying, “Nothing makes you hungrier than eating.” Same with writing: the ideas start flowing from the physical act of writing itself. So, start your article and continue on, even if the intro is weak. Get as far as you can. You’ll see, the writing gets easier as you go along, just as jogging gets easier the longer you run.
But then, go back and rewrite your intro and first couple of paragraphs. You’ll be in stride, have a better idea of where the article went, so you’ll see how to actually begin. Almost every writer will tell you that the first couple of paragraphs are generally s—t and need to be reconsidered because they were written before the author got warmed up.
PS: I can’t resist taking a shot at people who have no respect for words and how difficult the job is. You know, “all you did was write 100 words, how long did that take?” Generally this is a graphics guy who thinks his image is what’s selling. If images are the key, how did marketers sell before TV or photography or illustrations? With words, you know, “In the beginning was the Word,” even God uses words and stories (ever hear of a parable Mr. Graphics?).
I did this once… in a room of salespeople, congratulating themselves on how well a product had done and convinced that they made it happen.
“OK,” I said, “here’s a new product (I had a sample box and product name) go out and sell it. If you guys are what made the first product successful, then do the same with this one.”
“We can’t sell it, there’s no information. What are we selling?”
I see said the blind man! Without the words, the story, the reasons behind the product you’ve got nothing to sell. They had an image, a picture and the product name, supposedly that’s all you need. Remember, they’re salespeople with an image in hand — they should be golden.
“So, was it you who sold the first product or me?” I said sarcastically.
“OK,” they said, “so write the new ad and we’ll start tomorrow.”
Like it’s child’s play to write a successful ad. If you can write your name, you can write an ad. I supposed they figured about 125 words would do it and that should take 30 minutes, max. So I gave each of them a blank sheet of paper and said, “Here, you fill the page. I’ll be back in an hour” and left the room.
Never got one word back from any of them. This ain’t so easy, is it buddy?