Don’t let the blank screen and ghosts of deleted intro paragraphs haunt you and keep you stuck.
You don’t have to start writing from your intro; you can start in the middle and come back to your intro once you’ve figured out where you’ve gone.
When I was a philosophy graduate student, I had lots of opportunities to struggle with writing. I was continually juggling 4-6 papers, half of which were in classes that I wasn’t interested or invested in enough to have strong opinions about.
Not having a philosophical dog in the fight made starting writing assignments difficult, as I had no compelling anchor point. I had no problem understanding and regurgitating the arguments, but the blank screens and forty-five deleted intro paragraphs gave my imposter syndrome ample fodder for its arguments about my inadequacies.
About two years in, I figured out the writing process that worked for me:
- Start in the middle
- Write your way to the conclusion
- Write the intro last once you know where you ended up
My three steps seemed to violate all of the rules of outlining and efficient writing, but it did wonders for my curiosity, thinking, and writing effectiveness. It was freeing because I didn’t have to know what I thought before I started writing — I could find out what I thought by writing.
To this day, “figure out what you think by writing” seems so unremarkable and obvious … until I fall back into the same “I can’t start until I know what I think” pattern all over again. I spent the first three months of writing Start Finishing agonizing over the first chapter until I remembered that I didn’t have to start there. The content I was wheel-spinning over and eventually wrote got cut by 80% anyway.
With Team Habits, I’ve preempted the problem and have started writing content in the middle of the book. I know my thesis, my through-line, and the rough structure of the book, but my many hundreds of thousands of written words have taught me that the best intro is going to come last.