Guest Blog: Start by Starting, and other Strategies for Aspiring Writers by Sarah Symons

ImageAlmost everyone I know has an idea for a book or screenplay. Some of these ideas are quite compelling, and I for one would love to read them. However, writing a book – actually completing one and getting it edited and published – is a challenging undertaking, and many great ideas are lost along the way.

Believe me, I had many bumps in the road on my journey to completing This is No Ordinary Joy. Writing this book (from the day I typed the first word to the day I got my first galley copy) took a full five years! Many times I nearly gave up. Okay, I’ll be completely honest: I did give up a few times, but thankfully came back from the ledge with the help of some good friends, some helpful strategies learned along the way, and driven by the overwhelming compulsion to share my story (how I went from being a TV music composer living on Cape Cod, to helping girls get free and remain free from modern day slavery in India, Nepal, Cambodia and Thailand).

I hope these strategies will be helpful to any of you readers and book-lovers out there who also aspire to write a book:

Strategy #1 – Start by Starting
Thinking about a book does not have the same benefits as writing one. You will love the feeling of accomplishment you get from writing even just one page or chapter. Forget about making an elaborate outline of your story, and just put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). As Stephen King suggested in his book ‘On Writing’, put your characters in a situation and see what they do. Discover what happens as you write it. It will come together. But first you have to take that first step. Just do it!

Strategy #2 – Ask a Friend
Three years into my writing process, I was over halfway finished, and then lost my laptop (and a year’s worth of writing) in an airport. I know, I know, I should have backed up my work. But I didn’t, and then I felt so frustrated and beleaguered, I wrote nothing at all for 6 months. When I told my friend Nicole my sorry tale, she offered to help by becoming my first reader and editor, and my writing accountability partner. She suggested I email her one page a day for the next 2 months. She read each page I sent, and gave encouragement and some editorial comments. Her main mission was just to help me move forward, and it worked! Three months later I had my first draft completed.

Strategy #3 – No Editing or Marketing While You Write!
Editing is easier for me than writing, and I at first became obsessed with working and reworking everything I had written. That, combined with a lack of a disciplined daily writing practice (more on that below) was why I only wrote 30 pages my whole first year. Another creativity-crushing approach was trying to figure out my sales and marketing plan while I was writing the book. ‘Who is going to be interested in my story?’ I worried. ‘How am I going to get it out to the potential readers? How much is too much to share?’ Of course, this line of thought made me feel terribly insecure and shut down my creative process, paralyzing my writing. You will have plenty of time to edit and to create a marketing plan when you have finished writing your first draft. Trying to do those things too early will only ensure that you never have a finished product to edit and sell.

Strategy #4 – Daily Practice
If you always wait for inspiration to strike, or for the perfect quiet moment to do your writing, you are unlikely to finish your book. Instead, set aside time every day – even if it is only 20 minutes some days – to write. If for any reason you are unable to start working on your book, then write in a journal or write a blog. I have established a daily writing practice, which helps both with my creative writing (I’m currently writing a novel) and with writing for my work (I write blogs for Relevée, a social purpose jewelry company related to my work fighting slavery). I find that my business writing, journal writing and creative writing inform and inspire each other, and when I start writing for one purpose, I often get into the groove, and end up doing more writing of a different kind.

Strategy #5 – Chardonnay!
This strategy might not be right for everyone, and if you’re in recovery, you could substitute a steaming hot cup of green tea or chai. But whatever feels like a treat to help you relax, and most importantly to define for yourself and everyone else that this is your time, set aside for your creativity, go for it. Pour a glass of wine (or tea), tell your kids that ‘it is mom or dad’s quiet time and you are welcome to join me by doing your own creative activity, but please don’t bother me for the next 30 minutes’ and get writing!

Sarah Symons is the author of This is No Ordinary Joy, available for the Book Festival, Sept. 27, through The BookMark of Neptune Beach, and at Learn more about her work and vision at


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