Getting started is often one the most difficult parts of the creative writing process. The cursor blinks. The white page glares.
What should you write about?
Maybe you have a lot of ideas and are having trouble zeroing in on just one story, or maybe you just have the very early rumblings of something that you aren’t yet sure about. Or maybe you simply have writer’s block.
How can you get started?
Focus in on a topic through a generative writing exercise. One specific exercise that can be useful for getting started is Sondra Perl’s Guidelines for Composing: this exercise is an ordered set of questions for you to respond to. By the end of the exercise, you will likely have a story starting to emerge on the page. Even if you don’t pull a single sentence from this zero draft and move it into the first draft of a story, you may find that you are ready to write with unlocked ideas pushing you forward.
How exactly do Perl’s Guidelines for Composing work?
If you have tried freewriting in the past, this exercise is similar except that it is timed, often facilitated by an instructor or leader, provides you with questions to respond to, and is a little bit more systematic.
Perl’s Guidelines are an ordered set of questions that begin broadly and become more specific. Questions are generally read/facilitated by someone, so they work well in the classroom or in a writing group, but they can be done on your own (try setting a timer for each question). Perl’s Guidelines are used by writers of all kinds and levels—emerging and professional. The guidelines help you to produce some base-level (gut level) writing and are a method to tune in to yourself/your ideas by keeping your pen on the page (or finger on the keys) and writing even if you do not know where you are headed or even if you don’t have anything (yet!) to say.
As Sondra Perl’s explains, it is useful to keep in mind that “these guidelines sometimes work differently for different people—and even differently for you on different occasions. The main thing to remember is that they are meant for you to use on your own, flexibly, in your own way.” Read more about the Guidelines for Composing here, and give the exercise a try!
Curious about our upcoming writing workshops? Find our upcoming sessions here.