Tips for getting started (and finishing) a new writing project

So you have a new writing project that you need to complete. While you have the assigned topic, you just can’t seem to get started.  This is certainly something I encounter. After I have completed any combination of the following procrastinatory activities:

  • Get my favorite beverage accompanied by a snack;
  • Tidy my desk-top and office space. If you are prone to extremes, you can tidy the whole apartment or house;
  • Write a blog post (!) or
  • Play with my cat…

There always comes a point when I know that I must get started. What are strategies to get started on a new writing project?

Begin by working on a literature review

Reading what others have written on the topic will ensure that you are up to date on the latest research. I usually use more than one strategy for literature reviews. For example, I check the Table of Contents from relevant journals and I also do a search using several data bases provided by my institutional library. Once I have a list of references that seem to be relevant, I read these and make notes using some variation of the following questions:

  • Author/s & full citation
  • What is the topic?
  • What is the research purpose and research questions?
  • What are the findings and the argument?
  • What are implications? Are there relevant quotations?
  • What is this useful for the writing assignment?

I download the references to a bibliographic tool. Although I use Endnote, there are many other tools, including Refworks, Zotero, and Mendeley. When importing references I edit them as necessary, since not all references are formatted in the style in which I usually write.

Check the requirements of the writing assignment

After I’ve made notes on the topic, the next step is to re-check the parameters of the writing assignment. What is required?  Is there a word limit? Are there specific topical areas that need to be covered?


Next, I need to simply write. I usually begin by free-writing.  I write down as many ideas that I have learned from reading as I can. Writing without editing helps me. With further writing, I check if I have defined terms adequately. If you find it hard to start writing, it might help to talk to someone else about your topic. Some writers find it helpful to record themselves as they talk about their topic aloud. The idea is to generate ideas — editing can come later.

Revise… Edit… Revise

Once I have a rough draft of ideas, I begin to organize the structure of the whole piece. This might mean moving paragraphs as well as deleting sections that are not relevant. For me, the process involves: writing – editing – revising and so on. Once I have a full draft, I check to see that the reference list is accurate and formatted correctly.

Sit and Wait

I like to leave my writing sit for a few days. When I come back to it, I can do another round of edits. Taking a break from the writing assignment also helps me identify section that need to be clarified.

With frequent sustained writing – even 30 minutes a day – completing a writing assignment need not be a daunting task. All the best with completion of your writing assignments!

Share your tips for getting started… and finished.

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