Writing: Just Do It

My healthiest practices can be summed up in the Nike advertising campaign that began in the late 1980s: “Just Do It.” While the slogan never quite convinced me to purchase the Nike brand, every day I put on my running sneakers (whichever brand was on sale the last time I shopped) and head to the gym. There are days when I’m feeling lethargic, and exercising is the last thing I want to do, but I put aside all of my excuses and “just do it.” While I’ve never really considered it before, this slogan aptly describes my best writing practices as well. Whether I’m facing an academic assignment or a piece of professional writing, I sit at my keyboard and begin exercising my fingers, typing out my ideas so that they become more tangible and that ominous blank page doesn’t stay blank for long.

This is not to say that I begin writing without first considering my topic and formulating my thoughts. I don’t often procrastinate once the time has come to begin writing, but, just as I warm-up before my cardio workout, I also do prewriting exercises before I delve into actual writing. My first prewriting phase, which I’ll call “stretching,” begins immediately after I become aware of the writing task at hand. I begin by considering what I already know about the topic and what I still need to find out, and this cerebral stretching occurs simultaneously with other daily tasks like driving, running errands, or sitting in on a very uninteresting staff meeting. Once I start making connections, I know that I have entered my second prewriting phase – the warm-up. I’m still not yet ready to write, but during this phase I jot down some notes, whether they be tidbits of information, an idea for a source, or a question that I want to explore. Towards the end of this phase, my ideas become less amorphous, and I can write a rough outline or draw a diagram that helps me determine how the seemingly disparate elements fit together.

When I feel that I’ve sufficiently warmed-up, and I’m in a better position to articulate my ideas into a coherent narrative, I sense that I am ready to begin my writing workout. I may still feel anxious about starting if I don’t yet have everything quite figured out, but this is the time when that inner voice begins to whisper to me that it’s time to begin the exercise of writing. If I’m still hesitant, it may be a sign that I should spend some more time in the warm-up/prewriting phase, but more often than not it’s just my writer’s anxiety, and that inner whisper becomes a bit louder, issuing the imperative: Just Do It. At this point, I listen.

If I’m in a particularly reluctant mood, I sometimes have to negotiate with myself over what I will or will not accomplish during a particular session. With physical workouts, I make a deal that I have to do only twenty minutes; once I hit that milestone, however, I can usually renegotiate and continue for the entire duration. A similar phenomenon seems to happen when I begin writing; once I start, I’m on a roll. I may begin by making a pact with my inner writer’s voice that I will write only one page. But, if I did a thorough prewriting warm-up, that one page usually turns into several and sometimes into a complete (if very rough) first draft. At this point, the daily workout is done, and I can go to bed with a feeling of accomplishment. I know that I have another workout the next day, but I can rest assured that, if I got through today’s writing workout, I can get through tomorrow’s re-writing/revision exercises.

Who would have thought that a tag-line for an athletics product could translate into a best writing practice? Other popular branding campaigns don’t transition so well. (We would really have to stretch our imaginations for other advertising slogans like “Got Milk?” [“Got Ideas?” or maybe “Get Writing!”]). When other writers express concerns about starting a piece of writing, all the advice I can offer can be readily summed up in what might be the most universally applicable branding campaign of the last three decades, one that compels us to let go of our hesitations and anxieties, one that challenges us to meet the task at hand: “Just Do It.”

 

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