Waiting for January Won’t Make Starting Any Easier

Congratulations to you who finished writing a book this year! And congratulations to you who started a book. (If that was your intention, there’s still time!) They say, “Well begun is half done,” and that has been proven to me. By the time a new client arrives for help getting started, the book is usually half written, though unrecognizable. It’s challenging to get started—even to know that you have already started. It’s hard to know where to begin, and it usually feels like a big mess. And then it’s common to get stuck partway through, usually right before the end, because there’s a chance you’ll be judged and you’re afraid to let go. (That would be me. I have no qualms about finishing your book!)

Would it comfort you to know we’re not so unique? It’s part of our human process and it doesn’t have to be final. In a Harvard Business Review article Reclaim Your Creative Confidence, Tom and David Kelly of IDEO focus on four fears that block creativity:

  • Fear of the Messy Unknown
  • Fear of Being Judged
  • Fear of the First Step
  • Fear of Letting Go

Here’s part of the summary: “The authors use an approach based on the work of psychologist Albert Bandura in helping patients get over their snake phobias: You break challenges down into small steps and then build confidence by succeeding on one after another. Creativity is something you practice, say the authors, not just a talent you are born with.” Amen! Catch Alison Beard’s interview with the Kelly brothers for the Harvard Business Review Ideacast.

Spiral staircase copyright_TobiasHelbig_iStock_000007040319

Personally, I enjoy that first step and that messy unknown—when it’s YOUR book we’re working on. Other people’s books ring clear for me. But I need others’ encouragement for my own work as well. It keeps me humble, and expands my tool kit for helping others.

So if you’re preparing for a start, or a re-start, check out the Kelly brothers’ article and interview. And remember what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”


Text © Gwyn Nichols 2012. All rights reserved. WritersResort.com

Photo of Spiral Staircase © Tobias Helbig, iStockPhoto 7040319.

“I Have a Dream” for Writers

PBS national parks Lincoln Memorial King 1963
March on Washington, August 1963: the view from over Lincoln's shoulder, from Ken Burns' National Parks at PBS.org

Today you’ll probably hear the voice of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And it will probably begin, “I have a dream!” I recently shared his entire speech from the March on Washington, August 1963, with my writing students. Here’s what we observed:

  • Rhetorical triangle: Speaker, message, and audience couldn’t be more balanced and unified.
  • Persuasion: It wasn’t easy to claim basic American rights–to vote, to compete for jobs, to pursue education, to travel freely–without inciting violence and greater hatred.
  • Visual communication: Quoting Lincoln in the shadow the Great Emancipator’s gigantic statue, surrounded by a quarter-million respectfully dressed and civilly behaved people, didn’t hurt.
  • Technology: It was broadcast by CBS. It was recorded. It’s been experienced by millions who were then unborn.
  • Anaphora: “Now is the Time” or “Let Freedom Ring!” could have competed for title of this speech.
  • Allusions and Influences: The King James Version of the Bible and a number of hymns were quoted, and had influenced the cadence of his style.
  • The role of faith in history: Those quotations were not unfamiliar to the average American at the time.

But this isn’t a history class. It isn’t poli sci. It’s writing! And this is a class session dedicated to revising sentences.

  • Syntax: Notice the power of the simplest English sentences in his Biblical cadence.
  • Vocabulary: Claim the power of common, one-syllable, Anglo-Saxon words. Sprinkle Latin sparingly.

We have some fun rewriting one statement: “I have a dream.” How could Dr. King have messed that up?

  • High school: “I’ve been thinking a lot about how thing are going and therefore, I have, like, sort of come up with a few ideas for improving things.”
  • College: “I, as all human beings are prone to, have developed a formidable aspiration and expectation.”
  • Grad school: “Formidable aspiration and expectation that it is, the egregious circumstances that currently exist, and the interminable nature of them, require that alterations in personal, civic, and professional approaches to the injustices of society be undertaken.

I tease my clients with graduate degrees because they need the most editing of anyone this side of dyslexia or ESL. This is why I quit subscribing to a number of professional journals. I was trained on an academic journal–clearly, some journals know how to tell it straight–so I can’t bear to read bad writing about teaching writing. But I digress.

If you have never heard the entire sixteen-minute “I Have a Dream” speech, treat yourself today. May its principles and its beautiful language bless your life.