I’ve written before on the topic of tricking yourself into being a writer and tips for improving your writing, and I feel that as a college student, immersed in the world of academic journals and papers, I’ve gained a little credibility in the field. However, with every new paper and writing assignment I go through the same struggle that all writers do: where to begin. Starting seems to be the hardest part of writing for so many reasons. Half the time you never seem to know what you want to write about, or you can’t find the sources you need to do your research, or—worst of all—every time you feel like you’re ready to start you don’t know what to say. Writing when you’re stuck before you even start really sucks, but what can you do about it?
The problem with starting to write is just that: we spend too much time looking for a place to start instead of encountering one organically. Most great writing starts with the phrase, “I don’t understand.” Instead of looking to find the perfect place to begin, we should be letting our curiosity drive us.
Most good writers don’t sit down with a twelve-page outline and a crystal-clear idea of what they are going to write about. They sit down with a question and a sense of confusion. “Why do things work this way?” “How has nobody solved this problem yet?” “What does this mean?” A great piece of writing is just waiting to start at the point where everybody else seems to be taking an experience or fact for granted.
The world is filled with things that we don’t understand and can’t explain, and you’re sure to find that you have questions and curiosities about the way the world works that don’t exactly have concrete answers. That is where you begin. Don’t start with the things you know, start with the things you don’t know, start with the unanswered questions that bother you, start with the gap in research or void in conversation. And start your writing quite literally with a question. Ask your readers to consider your writing not for the answers it may give but the questions it may instill—good writing makes readers ask questions.
The tragedy about writing is that most of us aren’t taught to follow our “I-don’t-understand” sense. We’re told that if we want to write about something we need to know everything there is to know about it; we need to be experts. What we don’t talk about is how even experts in their field still have questions. That’s what drives their research and keeps them interested. Nobody knows everything there is to know about a certain field because at any given time there are x number of things that we don’t know because we haven’t asked questions about them yet. If you wait until you know everything you need to know about a topic, you’ll never write anything.
Don’t wait; start asking questions and let your questions guide you to knowledge.