Five Essentials for Getting Started Writing

photo by Kenn W. Kiser via morgue
photo by Kenn W. Kiser via morgue

In conversations about writing, two things invariably come up. One is not having the time, and the other is not knowing what to say. Lack of time or topic need not be an obstacle to getting started.  The best thing a writer can do is to create a writing habit and, in doing that, gain an ease with the process–your process–so that you have nothing within you to overcome when you do want to capture your thoughts or begin creating something brand new. I use writing prompts, incomplete and suggestive phrases, which act as doorways to what is waiting to be said, just beneath the surface. Check out this list of my favorite writing prompts.

Here, then, are my five essentials for getting started with writing and for creating a space in your life–a field, if you will, of energy–that will contain, maintain and nurture your writing practice:


A Timer and Five Minutes

A timer is the magic wand that transforms five minutes of staring at the page and fretting about the next interruption into a spacious and vast openness in which to begin listening to yourself. And that voice changes at about a minute in. The timer acts as a sentinel at the fence you have placed around a tiny but important boundary you have established within which to write. When I teach writing workshops, we begin with a five minute writing practice. It’s doable. People jump in with the instruction, “Don’t stop.” Add to that: Don’t re-read, don’t make sense, don’t punctuate, and don’t think. (For a whole a book about this, do read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones.) Then you will have set the stage for what is really happening: space, suspension of judgment, allowance, being. You are just being on the page, with a fast pen to write it all down. Later, you can increase the time to seven, ten, or thirty minutes. But for now, all you need is five.

photo courtesy of mconnors via morgue file
photo courtesy of mconnors via morgue file

A Fast Pen

The pen must be a fast pen. I wrote “fat” at first, and almost kept it, because that can be good, too. Because I gave myself bilateral tendonitis in my hands taking notes using a pencil when I was in college, I now know that too much friction while writing quickly can kill the hand. Granted I was also leaning on both hands over handlebars on bumpy roads back and forth to class, and granted the classes were three hours long–but still, do yourself a favor and find a pen that glides just the right amount for you not to have to press down too hard, grip too tightly, or struggle to keep up with the stream of your writing. You want to be able to write at a pace that makes you forget about the mechanics. About writing vs. keyboarding: You need to write with your body, as connected as you can be to the physical forming of letters. Not because it’s old-fashioned or better morally, but because your body will start to write something undirected by your conscious mind. Call it a Freudian slip, a happy accident or simply wisdom, but that’s what you want to access: that knowing place outside of the everyday thought process.


A Notebook

The notebook should be a dedicated, large enough notebook of lined or unlined paper, long-edge bound or short-edge bound. The right notebook feels not only welcoming but conducive, not to mention exciting, luscious, rich and luxurious, like a hot bath you can sink into with your pen and your awareness, where you can lay it all out and if need be close it back up again and come back to it tomorrow. I do not endorse loose pages, because they become lost, and because they move around while you write. However, if a three ring binder floats your boat, then go for it. I heart spiral bound, but it’s up to you. The point is, find a notebook that calls to you. When you’re shopping for a notebook, listen for the inner “Ooh!” and let yourself take home the one that your hand reaches out for. Hot bath, secret, safe, trustworthy.

photo courtesy of kakisky via morgue file
photo courtesy of kakisky via morgue file

An Open Heart

I say this, yet I have many times written with a constricted, hurting, throbbing, messy, unhappy heart. And it’s been the act of showing up and the process of writing that has opened my  heart. What this really means is that you keep an open ear to the heart, to the gut, to that funnel above your head where divine thought comes in, however you want to conceptualize it. You need to be willing to sit down and honestly write whatever is there, without censor, judgment or rejection. You need to respect that which is coming out and the process that is allowing it to come out. It’s only fair that if you are taking the risk to show up and write, then the judge, the critic and the parent must take a little vacation behind a plexiglass wall, where they can perhaps see what you are doing but cannot hear and cannot be heard. That part of you gets to comment on everything else that comes to awareness. You can write down those comments if they are loud enough, but just to get through them to what’s next, what’s underneath that layer, what’s not been heard–until now. You need to be kind to yourself. That means if need be don’t re-read until the next day or the next week–whatever it takes for the space of writing to be a safe one.


A Sense of Adventure

You already know (or suspect, otherwise, it wouldn’t be so hard to do), that it is no small thing to allow yourself this five minutes of time out of time to put yourself on paper. It is also, if you do it regularly, no big deal. Some days, no fireworks. But it gets weirder and more exciting when something not-you shows up and wants to be written down–a voice not your own, a circumstance, a feeling or texture unlike what you have experienced asserts itself in your writing. When that happens, hang onto your hat and transcribe, and just know that you don’t have to understand, direct, or do anything with it right now. You are in a foreign land, and you are going to have to trust the locals, trust the travel gods, and trust your own preparations for the journey to pull you through to the end of the time. And do continue writing after the timer goes off. Now you are off-road, off-script, off-planet. Just follow that energy until it is spent, even while the sleeping potion you gave the kids is beginning to wear off.

So uncap your pen, open your notebook to a fresh page, set the timer for five minutes. and here’s your first prompt: “I know…” Go.

(For a list of my favorite writing prompts, check out this.)

As always, thanks for reading. Let me know in the comments what you consider to be the essentials for getting started with writing.

With love,


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by Phyllis Capanna © 2015 joyreport

All content is the sole property of Phyllis Capanna and joyreport. If you are reading this content on another site, it has been reposted without the author’s permission and is in violation of the DMCA.  © 2015 Phyllis Capanna

0 thoughts on “Five Essentials for Getting Started Writing

  1. Hi Phyllis. Thank you for this article and for the list of writing prompts. I loved both. I had a writing habit going a couple of years ago but took on too many other projects and dropped it. I’ve since had great difficulty getting back into it – I think because I’ve been doing the 3 page requirement of another author’s recommended way of getting in touch with one’s creativity. It now dawns on me, after reading your blog, that this is what has been in my way: I don’t feel up to committing myself to 3 pages a day yet. I will try 5 minutes and see how it goes! Bless you!

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