"I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn." — Anne Frank
Anne Frank received her first diary on her thirteenth birthday. Two years later, while in hiding from German Nazis, the young Dutch girl had written more than 50,000 words in the span of a few months, documenting her life in the Secret Annex. Millions of people have since read her words, and some have even called her a literary genius.
Frank had no formal training. She was a schoolgirl with a passion for telling stories. In addition to her diary, Frank wrote 34 tales, kept a book of sentences she found beautiful and even attempted to start a novel. She often doubted her ability and talent, though she also described writing as the thing that kept her from suffocating.
While few of us have endured the trials and tribulations that Frank did, her approach and even hesitation to writing can be very relatable.
Sometimes a blank page can be intimidating. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the right words or inspiration. Sometimes we avoid the practice altogether because we worry the result won't be very good.
Tapping into your inner writer may be a bit easier than you think, though it takes some practice getting out of your head to do it. The practice can also be cathartic. For Frank, it was a way to cope with the world around her. Decades later, research shows that those feelings of relief Frank from writing are experienced by most people with a writing practice.
Hundreds of studies have shown that writing or journaling can have a positive impact on mental health. Many researchers believe that writing elevates self-awareness and that it helps us to work through and accept the feelings we’re experiencing. One New Zealand study even found evidence that journaling may help physical wounds heal faster.
You don’t have to win a Pulitzer or even get published. Your goal can just be to start and see where it takes you. That can be a life-changing goal in itself.
Prioritize practice and routine
“At some point, you have to look at yourself and say, ‘I’m a writer.’ And then, start doing your job by writing every day.” — Darius Faroux
Maybe the most difficult part about writing is that it’s a practice, which means you must do it over and over again to get better at it. Just like everything else, these habits can be challenging to form, but with a little persistence, you should get it down in no time.
Make creating the habit as easy on yourself as you can:
- Put it on your schedule. Set a reminder and make an effort to write everyday. Try to aim for the same time every day to build the habit.
- Pick a place to write. Having your own writing space that you look forward to visiting every day will help you pick up the habit.
- Set a goal. If you’re driven by reaching goals, set a word count you want to reach each day.
- Always prepare. Once you’ve started, you can keep up the momentum by ending each writing session with an idea for the next day.
Pay attention to details in your life
“Soak up everything. You will use all you’re hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, and smelling.” — Chris Fabry
All good writing is in the details, so try to harness them in whatever you’re writing. If your writing practice is to recall an event, you’ll want to remember the specifics. If you’re writing to investigate your emotions, drawing out everything you’re feeling can help you probe a little farther.
Think about the five senses and then answer the questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how. Even if you’re writing for yourself, write as if your reader has never heard this story before, because it’s always the details that capture the moment.
Read (as much as you possibly can)
"I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in." — Robert Louis Stevenson
Writers are readers, and even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, reading can help your practice in a few different ways.
First, it’s encouraging! Seeing what other people are writing — whether it’s in a magazine, on a blog, or in a novel — can be motivating and even inspiring. It’s easy to string a few sentences together and get discouraged about the message or the tone or the structure, but if you’re able to see other people doing it, you may start to believe you can too.
Reading can also help us find our voice. Read writers who have a style you enjoy or can relate to. For example, Ernest Hemingway wrote in concise and punchy sentences. His journalism background contributed to his simple sentence structure, which became a distinctive feature of his writing.
Style varies writer to writer, so shop around a little bit. As you read, take a mental note of sentence structure, word choice, and point of view that speak to you. If you read something you like, try incorporating it into your own writing to see how it feels. The best way to find an individual writing style is to read a lot. You’ll end up with a blend of many different approaches that is unique and all your own.
Choose story over structure
“Part of the artistic process is learning to channel that fear into creativity and not confine yourself because of it.” — Steven James
One of the hardest things about writing is getting through the rules. School taught us to have a beginning, middle, and an end. We learned grammar and what makes a "good" sentence. We analyzed texts for their use of metaphor and tone.
It’s okay to let all of that take a back seat when you start writing. Sometimes the best thing a writer can do is to get a story out and then worry about the composition later. Even if you aren’t writing for anybody but yourself, it’s difficult to empty your head of all of these writing expectations we’ve learned over the years.
If it helps, commit to an outline first to organize your thoughts. It doesn’t have to be in-depth. Write out a main idea and fill in the blanks. Great writers let their journey guide them above all else.
Always be open to inspiration
“So, first live well; then write well.” — Allen Arnold
Almost anything can serve as inspiration for writing: A chance encounter at a coffee shop, a Sunday afternoon drive, or a quote you read in a newspaper article.
To enable your inner writer, start by actively taking notes about the world around you. You may be surprised what can serve as inspiration for a journal entry or short story.
Carrying a small notebook for observations is a great way to start, and keeping a list of sentences that catch your attention — just as Anne Frank did — is a good way to start too.