There are 8 million stories in the naked city, and there’s at least one that only you can tell.
Of course, you’ll have to start writing to tell it.
You don’t have to set out to write a novel, though, to start expressing yourself with words. You don’t have to borrow some well-used line, either, like we did from the 1940s film noir murder classic “The Naked City,” to get started.
You just need to get started.
Here are seven ways that professional writers suggest for getting your thoughts on paper.
1. Give Yourself Some Quiet Time
Writing is not a multi-tasking sport. Set aside some time, even if it’s only 15 minutes a day at first, for just you and your thoughts. Keep something handy to jot down what comes out. You may be surprised.
2. Write About What Interests You
Don’t set out to write a fictional romance if contrived romance novels bore you. Fascinated by a particular period in history? Write sketches about what it was like to live then. Interested in current affairs? Dash off your thoughts about the politics of the day. Interested most in yourself — not an unusual trait among writers — start a daily journal and pack it with what you REALLY think about the people, places and things you experience in your life.
3. Think About The Point
There’s a reason you want to tell a story, whether it’s non-fiction or wholly made up — it has a point. So devote some time to thinking about the central purpose you want to illustrate with your story before you touch fingers to a keyboard. Novelists call this the premise, and every tale has one. For example, “A Christmas Story,” by Charles Dickens: True self-awareness leads to generosity of spirit. Or “The Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane: Only those who feel fear can show true courage. Don’t worry about false starts with your writing. If you have a clear point in mind, your words will eventually flow like a river to its mouth.
4. Think About Structure
Every story, even if it’s just the story of your day, has a beginning, a middle and an end. Devote a bit of time before you start typing to outline the way you want to shape your thoughts to lead readers to your premise. Even the most creative work can benefit from a framework.
If you don’t feel like structuring a story or no story line appeals to you at the moment, don’t be afraid to just play around with words. Write a word sketch of the beautiful fall trees on your block. Do a stream-of-consciousness hour through your dog’s eyes. Or choose a stranger you spot in a coffee shop and make up a character for them. Are they angry, aggressive, sad, passive, strong, weak? Married or lonely or both? Boy Scout or axe murderer? Or both? What are they going to do after they pat your dog, walk through the coffee shop door and meld into the city streets under the beautiful fall trees? Have fun!
6. Shut Down Your Inner Critic
Thinking about structure and premise are fine ways to build a path for your writing project, but you have to let yourself just write. Don’t be concerned if the words that flow onto your page are basically garbage. You can edit them later, or even just throw them away — at the end of the day, they are only words. The important thing is to get your words flowing, so use at least part of your daily quiet time to just write. There will be plenty of time to listen to the coaches after the game starts. And once you start writing, good things will flow.
7. Read Well
Perhaps the most important trick to getting inspired to write, and then to write well, is to expose yourself to way other artists think. Read liberally and read what you like. Thumb through the National Book Foundation’s 2016 National Book Award Finalists to find titles that appeal to you. Or get an insight into the city’s many artists and thinkers through the NYXT.nyc Explore Manhattan series.
Before you know it, you may be churning out words and sharing your thoughts with the Naked City as well.