How to start writing: To write or not to write

15th September 2023

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You may have heard of something called ‘writer’s block’, the inability of a writer to come up with an idea or ideas to progress their writing.  It can happen to even the most proficient of writers. But sometimes it can be difficult to even get off the starting block when you are faced with the task of producing a piece of writing.

Firstly, it is important to remember that we very rarely write just for ourselves, two exceptions might be a shopping list or a secret diary. Bear in mind that somebody will read your writing and will have certain expectations about what they are going to find. This in itself can act as a nudge to get us going.

If you are writing in an exam you may be thinking a Cambridge examiner somewhere in the UK is going to read this. But remember the exam questions always tell you WHO the reader will be (e.g a tutor, a school principal, a company manager, your friend etc.) It is therefore vital that you imagine the examiner is one of these people and not just a random examiner. If you keep this in mind, already some ideas around the reader’s expectations should be be taking shape for you to put down on the page in your initial plan.

Planning is essential in exams even when time is limited. Unfortunately, many people skip this stage and it more often than not leads to a weaker piece of writing in the end. The act of planning, putting words and phrases down on the page, even if you think they are rubbish, serves as a means of generating ideas, thereby overcoming ‘writer’s block’ or the fear of writing itself. This is certainly true if you are not writing in your first language.

I was asked to write a poem on a poetry course I joined recently. My reaction along with others was: how do I start? The tutor asked us to look at a poem already written and take the last word of each line and create our own poem from these. Once I had the words, some ideas started to emerge and I was off the starting block!

Here is the original poem and my attempt at a new poem underneath. I don’t think I’ll be a Poet Laureate any time soon!

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art


Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

The Eremite

By Camilla Mooney

He practises his lonely art

Night after night,

From civilisation apart

the Eremite.

His task

On the far-flung shores,

To loosen the mask

And cast adrift that which moors

Him unchangeable,

Gripping at his breast,

Until at last the sea swell

Jettisons his unrest beyond salvation-

Drawing its final breath,

He lives unfettered until death.