How to get started writing

A pen and notepad

"The brain has a funny way of clicking into gear when you least expect it" says the journalist and writer, Richard Lewis.

Even as the writer of Kelly Holmes' Olympic book and a journalist on The Sunday Times, Richard Lewis can be faced with a blank screen on his lap top or an empty page in his notebook. What does he do? For starters, he does not panic...

Being a journalist

It is all about knowing the right words when it matters - but for hours sometimes you can sit there with a blank piece of paper or a computer screen with no words. In fact, when I first started, if I had what is called writer's block, I would get in my car and drive to my local park with my note book. I would sit on a bench and watch the world go by - and then, suddenly, the words would flow.

Why did that happen?

I don't know. Sometimes, the flutter of a bird's wings would send a signal to the brain and my story, normally a football report, would have its first paragraph. Always remember: the brain has a funny way of clicking into gear when you least expect it.

Remember this...

Don't think too hard about what you want to write because the harder you think, the worse it will be. I have honestly woken up in the middle of the night with the best way to write a story that I might have spent the previous evening trying and failing to construct.

When it's not happening,

Always walk away from the screen, have a break, do something totally different for a second, and then suddenly, the words might arrive. But never fear, or panic, or let yourself be overcome by nerves. If you do, you will get yourself in a flap and the words will be even tougher.

A week to write a feature

I will start with a few hours to go and I will end up happy with it. It is all about deadlines. I have been brought up in my career with the need to write fast, and good words, because sport always seems to happen when the deadline is approaching. But the longer I have, the more flustered I become and the words are not always as good as if I have had 10 minutes rather than two days.

Who is my best friend?

Without doubt, it is the thesaurus on the lap top. Sometimes you might need an alternative word quickly, and it can do the job for you. A big tip - if you are first starting out in journalism, read a page of a dictionary every night. One new word might stick and you'll never know when you're going to need it. If you're already a journalist, ensure that the thesaurus on your computer is easily accessible.

Don't panic

Don't worry about outside help preventing you from making that blank screen fill up with words. I had an awfully tight deadline when Kelly won her second gold medal at the Olympic Games in Athens, but I never panicked about the thought of my computer stopping, my telephone line not connecting or my keyboard being stuck. What is going to be, is going to be.

Facts and knowledge are a great help.

If you're close to a deadline, it's always important to have words at your disposal. A newspaper page can be printed with something on it - as long as it makes sense - but not with nothing! So, if you have done your research, and you're under pressure about what to write, at least facts and figures can give you a start.

Even when the worst scenario is feasible

You have a deadline and you have to write a story to fill a page within seconds - don't think about being clever and presuming what might happen. Of course, prepare some thoughts, but never write before you need to.

A friend of mine was reporting the final of the 100m at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996. The race was 2am London time and the deadline to make the final edition of the newspaper was tough. To save time, before the race, he wrote eight different stories - to take in the eight different scenarios of the race being won by one of the eight different athletes. He could then fill in the gaps, send the story in seconds and, bang, job done.

What happened? Linford Christie was disqualified for two false starts, there was mass confusion, the race was delayed by 15 minutes, and when it was run, Donovan Bailey, of Canada, triumphed and broke the world record. My friend had tried to make it up... and he even could not do that!

Blank pages If you have a blank page on your notepad where you are trying to write a story, tear that page out. Or if you are faced with a blank screen on the computer, change the font. Odd? The slightest of alternatives can set a story in motion.

Set your watch by five minutes ahead of deadline.

Then you'll never miss it. Of course, sport is set to a schedule so that is not always easy, but if you know you have to file by 6pm, and your watch is ahead, you'll always be ahead - so if something goes wrong, time will be on your side. There is always time to re-jig a story that has arrived slightly before deadline, but never once the deadline has passed.

Use instinct.

Over the years I have learnt to type very quickly, which is pretty handy on occasions like the night Kelly won her second gold medal. I had to type 600 words in 10 minutes - while watching a race. Learn the points of a keyboard, so you can write and watch at the same time.

And finally

Do not despair. If you have done half of the above in place, nothing will go wrong. But if it does, take a deep breath, look away, look again, and I bet you it will not be long before that blank screen is full up.


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