Starting to write

Starting anything new is hard, but starting to write is particularly hard. Because in theory, writing is easy – too easy. People say things like, “If you were a real writer, you’d just write.” Except it’s not quite as simple as that.

I think it’s the pressure to do something that on the surface appears so seemingly simple, yet in reality, is actually rather brave and momentous.

Just remember that everybody has to start somewhere, and you can do it, no matter what anybody says. And if you don’t start, you’ll never know what you might be able to create.

I’m lucky I had the bones of a story I wanted to write, but it wasn’t easy, not to start with. I needed a cheerleading squad, and I had nobody in my real life to call on. So to start with, my cheerleading squad consisted of these five books, that I would seriously consider reading if you need that extra push to get you started:

1. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron

I don’t think I’d ever have got through the first few weeks of writing without this book. Although I didn’t exactly follow the programme entirely, it helped to build a structure in my life, and gave me the space to be me and write without judgement. As a new mum struggling to find her identity after giving birth, this is the one book that gave me back my colour, and also meant I could be a better mum, because I had something entirely separate that was mine – my writing life – that had nothing to do with changing leaky nappies, mashing ripe bananas, or watching Peppa Pig (although I do have a soft spot for Peppa Pig…).

2 Old Friend from Far Away, by Natalie Goldberg

In a similar vein to Julie Cameron, this book gave me the spiritual tools to write, along with some great practical exercises to help get my story down. An ideal first book for anybody thinking about writing a memoir.

3. Creative Writing : A Workbook with Readings by Linda Anderson and Derek Neale

This is an Open University text book that goes along with their Creative Writing (Level 2 A215) degree course. Having studied with the OU before, and being familiar with the set-up, this book helped instil confidence in me that I was along the right track with my writing, and made me feel like I was following some kind of academic path at the same time.

4. The Creative Writing Course Book: Forty Authors Share Advice and Exercises for Fiction and Poetry by Julia Bell

Again, as I knew this book was written by people who had taught on the famous UEA Creative Writing MA, I felt that I was learning all the right tools to use in my writing. I dipped into this, rather than working through it like I did with the OU book, but I enjoyed the readings and some of the exercises, and I’d definitely recommend it for any beginner writer (or even not so beginner).

5. Writing Life Stories: How to make Memories into Memoirs, Ideas into Essays, and Life into Literature by Bill Roorbach

By now, I was certain that what I was writing was going to be memoir, and I began to think about all the different aspects of telling life stories, including some of the moral and legal issues that can arise. Although I’ve read several very good books about writing memoir, this one sticks in my mind as it was the first one that really inspired me.

There are many other writing books that I’ve read over the years, but those were the first five I read that set me on the path to finishing the first draft of my memoir. In the meantime, I was busy being mum, and writing my morning pages – a habit that sadly I no longer keep up, but at the time was vitally important, because it was my way of investing in myself and my writing, my way of telling the universe I was serious about my craft.

So, you can do it. If you’re determined enough, dedicated enough to the craft to learn all about it, and as desperate as I was to do something different with your life, then odds on, you’ll get there in the end.

We’ll all get there in the end.


Author: lifeandtimesofamemoirwriter

I am a writer based in East Anglia. Currently writing a memoir about alcoholism and student life during the mid-1990s Brit Pop / Girl Power era (long-listed for the Mslexia Memoir Competition 2014).

6 thoughts on “Starting to write”

  1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who rankles at that “if you were a writer, you’d just write” nonsense. It can’t be the same for everyone. Yet still I find myself scared off writing by thinking Well I’m not writing now, so I can’t be one.


      1. I always see writers saying it, which seems massively, and intentionally, discouraging. Spinning a web of magic round their own craft? “Oh yeah, I just write, cos I have to, it’s just in me…” Mythologising themselves… I dunno


      2. Yeah, it’s kind of like pulling the ladder up so nobody else can climb up, isn’t it? I think maybe some writers forget how hard it is to actually start, or maybe there are some who’ve never struggled. I think there’s a strong psychological element to it though, and self-doubt often wins the day, however much talent one may have.


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