Facing an Empty Screen: How to Get Started
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
You may not be writing the “great American novel,” but what you are writing matters to a lot of people. That kind of pressure can make it difficult to get started. To begin the process, you have to find your focus.
The focus: a clear thesis statement
At the risk of setting off flashbacks to freshman English class, I give you the thesis statement.
Before you put pen to paper or finger to keyboard, take the time to develop a clear thesis statement for your document. This thesis is the main idea of your document, so craft it carefully. It guides the direction of your writing and limits the scope of your document. It also helps set expectations and guides your readers’ understanding.
Focus is tough
How, you may be asking, can I develop a thesis statement when I don’t yet know the main idea I’m trying to convey? Naturally, that’s the point.
Start with your broader idea, then ask yourself a series of questions to narrow it down:
- Level 1 — Who, what, when, where, why, and how?
- Level 2 — Are there problems to overcome? What is my target group? Who is the responsible party? What will be the effect?
- Level 3 — What are some of the similarities, differences, and relationships?
Say, for example, that you’re writing about space exploration. Level 1 might be “manned space exploration.” Level 2 narrows that topic by asking, “What are the effects of zero gravity on humans in space?” Finally, level 3 sharpens the focus to “differences between the Apollo missions of the 1960s and life on the International Space Station.”
Your thesis will be driven by the work you do, but tips such as these can help you produce tightly focused documents that convey your results and ideas as effectively as possible.
Create your own list of “starter” tips, and see how your writing takes off.