How To Actually Start Writing

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We constantly hear from people that they’d like to become better writers. Most of these people have been dreaming about writing for years, but they either still don’t have a writing habit or the things they write are not very good (or both).

Perhaps part of the reason for this is that there’s no default, obviously effective path to learning writing.

If you want to learn to fly a plane, you sign up for flight school and do what they tell you. You can’t say,  “I’ve been wanting to fly for years, I’m just not sure how to get started.” Because everyone will just tell you to go to flight school. Writing is different, which is possibly why it’s so difficult to build a habit and get good — even though theoretically it should be easier to start than almost anything.

(This lack of inherent structure is why there are a few multi-million dollar writing schools online, which attempt to make learning how to write more like going to flight school and less like figuring it out on your own. We aren’t sure how good these are.)

We’ve also noticed that some people, even those who want to write, understimate just how much leverage writing can give you. Writing improves both your thinking and communication, which means it helps you do better at almost everything in life: from obvious applications (like writing work emails) to less-obvious applications (like communicating in relationships).

One useful way to get started is to frame writing as going to the gym for your brain — it is mental exercise, after all. And similar to developing a gym habit, developing a writing habit starts with small and incremental steps. Before you know it, writing well and writing often will become second nature to you. You won’t have to ‘force’ yourself to sit down and write about some topic because you’ll really want to do it.

If you want to become a better writer, one thing you could actually do right now is the following.

> Commit to writing for 30 minutes a day for the next 30 days (including weekends if possible).

Your schedule almost definitely has 30 minutes each day that would be better spent writing. If you rack your brain and genuinely cannot think of a 30-minute block each day that you could currently devote to writing, then you’re in luck — because you can just wake up 30 minutes earlier.

(This sounds like silly advice, but in reality it’s very easy to make excuses when you don’t want to follow through on a commitment like the one above. So we are handling objections for you.)

> Create a blog.

You can write and finalize essays in your word processor of choice if you really want to, but we’ve noticed that there’s a real benefit (for most people) to publish the things you write on a blog — even if you don’t plan on sharing it with anyone yet.

Pasting your words into a blog and hitting ‘Publish’ is a forcing function for you to let the ink dry; to give your words a stamp of approval before they are out there in the world. This helps you avoid the constant editing and re-editing that can happen if your words live exclusively in a Google Doc.

To create a blog, there are a lot of easy and beautiful options: and are very accessible. You could also make a Substack (or equivalent). You could have a blog live via any of those sites within 10 minutes of reading this essay.

If you’re afraid to do this, remember that literally 0 people are going to care about or read your writing, at least at first, unless you share it with them. You can also publish anonymously.

> To decide what to write about, answer the prompts below.

If you already know what to write about, great. Write about that. If you’re feeling stuck or you want some guidance, here are a bunch of topics you could write about. The purpose of these prompts is both to get you thinking and to help you generate more ideas for later on.

We recommend that 1 prompt = 1 essay (but you could combine some if you want to).

  • What did you change your mind about last year?
  • What is the most surprising thing you learned about recently?
  • What is your most unpopular opinion?
  • What is important to you?
  • Who was your favorite high school teacher?
  • What is your best movie pitch?
  • What did you learn last year?
  • What are you good at?
  • What are you bad at?
  • What will the world look like in 20 years? 100? 1,000?
  • What is your favorite place on earth?
  • How do you learn new things?
  • What is the most wrong you have ever been at work?
  • Write a memo justifying your current life. Why are you living the way you are?
  • If someone gave you a one-way ticket 1000 years into the future, would you take it?
  • What commonly accepted practices today do you think will be viewed as horrific in 500 years?
  • What piece(s) of art consistently make you cry? If none, why do you think that is?
  • Where were your great-great-great grandparents born, and what lives do you think they lived?
  • If you could add any activity to the Olympics, what would it be and how would it be judged?
  • What do most people assume about you that is not true?
  • What new technology do you think we will make — and not make — in the next 50 years?
  • What are some common assumptions about the world that you think are harmful?
  • Are some religions worse than others?
  • You (and only you!) learn that a zombie apocalypse will start in 24 hours. You have $10k in your bank account. What do you do before the apocalypse begins?
  • If you could create a new required high school class for students, what would it be and why?
  • Are there any societal norms that have fallen out of fashion that you think we should bring back?

We’ve written and carefully considered these, but if you want more you can also just paste this list into your AI of choice and ask it to generate 100s more similar prompts.

Our advice? Try the steps above. Don’t overcomplicate things. See what sticks. In all likelihood if you actually do this for 30 days, you’ll realize that writing (and thinking about writing) compounds. A nonfiction essay about your predictions for the future in 20 years could turn into the seeds of a sci-fi short story, or an essay about a past relationship could turn into a romance novel. Also, you will realize which topics you’re really passionate about, and you will want to write more about them. You will begin to notice new ideas in your everyday life where you did not notice them before.

And, best of all, you will probably become a better writer.

(By the way: if you make your writing public, email us with a link to what you wrote. It would be fun to read your writing!)

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1: If you really want to get good at writing fiction and think that the prompts above aren’t very interesting, then we have a few thoughts for you. One is that lots of writing skills overlap (many great fiction authors also write great nonfiction — like Hemingway). Another is that responding to the prompts above will more than likely help you generate good ideas for fiction. A final thought is that you could also just write a fictional short story for 30 minutes every day instead of following the prompts above, or you could answer the prompts from the POV of a fictional character.

2: If you really cannot find 30 minutes a day to dedicate to writing, the most helpful thing you can do is admit to yourself that it’s not a big enough priority to you. Shelve it for now. This means you don’t have to say “I’d love to, I just can’t find the time,” you can say, “I don’t want it badly enough right now, but I might in the future.”

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