Answered By: Paul Lai
Last Updated: May 18, 2021     Views: 31

© Walden University Writing Center 2021






[introduction music]


CLAIRE: This month we discuss how to start writing!


Welcome to WriteCast, a casual conversation for serious writers. A monthly podcast by the Walden Writing Center. I’m Claire Helakoski.


KACY: And I’m Kacy Walz


KACY: Hi, listeners! This month we’ll talk a bit about getting started with your writing. This is a topic we went over a little bit in Episode 26 when we talked about Writer’s Block, but today Claire and I will talk more about the writing process—you’re in your course, you get your assignment, now what?


CLAIRE: Hi, all! So, as, Kacy said, we’re revisiting this part of the writing process today—how to start writing. Once you have your assignment, there are several approaches you can take to what we call the prewriting process—which is everything that happens before you actually begin writing. When I know I’m going to write something, the first thing that I do is take a look at the assignment instructions. I like to highlight the parameters of the assignment—how long it needs to be, which or how many sources are required, and the overall purpose or key points.


KACY: Right, the assignment is a great place to start. And I love your steps for highlighting key points regarding length and source requirements and that kind of thing, Claire. Once I have a sense of the assignment, I try to focus on the reading and research part next. I take a lot of notes during this stage so I can go back over what I’ve read quickly later on. I’m not good at holding all that information in my head at one time. I’ve been using a modified version of our Literature Review Matrix (which I find helpful for any writing project—not just a literature review) to help organize my thoughts and keep track of my sources.


CLAIRE: The literature review matrix is a really great resource and I will link to it in our show notes. But for our listeners briefly, what is the literature review matrix?


KACY: The literature review matrix is a really really low tech resource that we have created, basically it’s just a way to organize your notes, so we have a word document format and an Excel format so whatever version you’re more comfortable with. I personally use the Word version because Excel scares me, but what I really like about it is you can modify the different pillars or columns, whatever they’re called.


CLAIRE: Columns.


KACY: [laughs] Yeah, columns. So that it best suits whatever assignment you’re working on so for me I’m writing a dissertation on English literature and I therefore have different categories and needs than Walden students, but I can change what the topics of the columns are so that I can see my notes and it’s all organized—all my notes on theory, say, are in the same column, all my notes on ideas that I had while reading are in the same column and I can just get back to that, all that information that I had while I was actually doing the research.


CLAIRE: Right. Right! So that’s a really great note-taking tool. You might have something else that works for you, you might have different software that you use, but like Kacy said the literature review matrix is pretty low tech—it’s basically a big table—so you can use, you know, kind of any different approach that is going to work for you to take notes while you’re reading, and that will be really important. So you may have already done the research or reading and your assignment is asking you to use that so you may have done the reading a week ago or two weeks ago. In that case, I would recommend going back through your reading and taking a look at your notes—if you aren’t taking notes as you read—START!  [Kacy laughs] It’s so, so helpful to get your writing juices flowing, make sure you don’t have plagiarism because you know where different ideas came from. I love looking back at my notes and my thoughts to help me get started writing on any project. I’ll often re-read chunks of what inspired me to remember my thoughts in order even better.


KACY: At this point, you have your assignment, you have some thoughts and resources, so then what? What do you do now? This is a place I find I really struggle: that blank Word document can be pretty intimidating and sometimes I take the very unhelpful approach of just doing nothing. If I’m feeling blocked at this point, I’ve started to do some free-writing. I often read about people freewriting and I never really tried it for myself until I started writing my dissertation because I was getting stuck. A lot of these resources talk about people setting timers for 20 or 30 minutes, but I like to start with just 5 or 10 minutes because I feel like that’s very manageable and I can just keep writing and not stop, not self edit until those 5 or 10 minutes are up. I have a couple little sand timers I set right next to my monitor so I can’t escape looking at them, and, once I’ve flipped the one I’ve chosen for that free-write session, I try to keep typing until the sand is completely strained. This also forces be to ignore typos and push past the desire to rack my brain for the perfect wording. I think it’s important to remember that a draft is…a draft. Keeping my sessions short means I’m pushing myself to keep typing without stopping to self-edit along the way.


CLAIRE: Freewriting can be really helpful to just get out of your own head, stop looking at that blank page, and we talk a bit about this in our episode on Writer’s Block as well. Personally, I don’t usually free write necessarily but I like to start wherever I feel excited to write. So this might be reflecting on a piece of evidence or notes I took in my reading and just writing all my thoughts on that—and they might be disjointed, they might not be full sentences. Or it might be that I’m really excited by a question in the assignment and feel like I have an opinion on that, even if I don’t have evidence to support it yet. If I feel like I can answer that question, if I have thoughts on that question, I’ll likely start that I might even write something like “I think writing centers are important because…” it doesn’t matter if I plan to keep that in the later draft, it’s just a perspective, directly responding the prompt, to get me started, and from there I can explore why I do think that  and where I can find evidence to support that perspective and from there I can get ideas, I can figure out what my outline might look like I can think about additional research. I’m a sloppy first draft person. I write several drafts before a final draft.


KACY: And I’m trying to be a sloppy first draft person. I think that’s part of why I tend to get paralyzed because I want to be perfect on that blank page and so that’s why I like freewriting.


So, you’ll also want to keep in mind that, speaking of drafts, you’ll also want to keep in mind that eventually you’ll need a thesis and paragraphs, so maybe using the MEAL plan can help you out with organizing your thoughts. I definitely don’t recommend having an introduction or conclusion until you work on your thesis and paragraphs more because those usually change quite a lot depending on the contents of your draft. So, my suggestion is to pick a point. Write about it. Support it with evidence. Even if you plan to throw it out, or do throw it out, later, just write a paragraph. You just have to get it out there!


CLAIRE: Absolutely—don’t just stare at the screen, get your juices flowing, get your thoughts going, pick something that you have a thought about related to your eventual paper or document and write about it. You can revise it later and re-shape things, you can scrap it entirely. I’ll also say that something I think can trip you up is if you don’t understand your assignment or what it’s asking for, ask your faculty! Don’t just try to blindly blunder through writing it on your own. Ask your faculty. Don’t try to start writing if you’re not sure what to do.


KACY: Definitely. And give yourself time to write each assignment. There’s nothing like an oncoming deadline to make at least me, panic, and be paralyzed. If you’re a deadline person, like me, try making a Paper Appointment with the Writing Center several days before the due date. You’ll know you’ll need to have something to upload to your appointment form by 5am ET the morning of your appointment, and you’ll want to give yourself some time after the 48-hour-turnaround so you can implement the feedback. You also get a bit of a break from that particular assignment while you wait for your Writing Instructor to respond!


CLAIRE: A break can be really nice. Just shift, ship it off and just take a break from it.  The Writing Center can be so useful for accountability, and I’ll link to a handy visual we have that you can use for appointment planning in our show notes. So, remember, use what excites you, use your assignment, use your research, use the MEAL plan and any other outlining technique that might work for you. Even if you’ve never tried one before, give it a shot to learn what works for you and helps you get started writing.


KACY: Absolutely. You can do it! We’ll link to some relevant resources about the writing process and getting started in our show notes. Until next time, Keep writing.


CLAIRE: Keep inspiring.




KACY: WriteCast is a monthly podcast produced by the Walden University Writing Center. Visit our online Writing Center at Find more WriteCast episodes on iTunes, Stitcher, TuneIn, or your favorite podcast app. We would love to hear from you! Connect with us on our blog, Facebook, and Twitter, and at Thanks for listening!



Visit the Writing Center's website to learn more about the WriteCast podcast, including how to subscribe.

Related Topics

More Information

Need more information? Ask us!

Or browse Quick Answers by Topic.