How to start anything

by marin mikulic

There’s a joke that goes:

“Quitting smoking is easy. I’ve done it a hundred times.”

Girl Smoking Painting by Guido Mauas | Saatchi Art
Painting by Guide Mauas

At first, people react with confusion, then a hearty laugh. I love the joke because it applies to anything. Like my writing. 

I’ve always wanted to write. Every year or so I’d make up my mind to put pen to paper and write at least 3 pages a day. Or 5.

"Starting to write is easy. I’ve done in a hundred times already."

A week later I’d fail and forget about writing for another year, disappointed in my lack of perseverance. I was the smoker who sneaks out to inhale a puff or two after four days of going cold turkey.

It never occurred to me that I might have raised the bar too high. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I tried a different approach.

Instead of starting big, I decided to start. 

I promised (to myself) to wake up, go straight to the desk and write a minimum of 250 words for an entire month. 

Words, not pages. That’s less than half a standard page.

I also decided I wouldn't wake up to write well, only that I would write. As long as ink came out of my pen in the form of words and sentences, that was enough. I was writing. There was no one to impress, only a promise to keep. 

The next morning I started. Ten minutes later, I was done. 

A week later, I was still writing. Sometimes I’d write more than 250 words, but never less. 

I held on to the promise. 

Thirty days came and went and I burned to continue. First, I bought a few beers to celebrate my small success with a few friends. It's important. Then, I decided to write for another month, only this time it was to be 300 words a day. A small increase. Going from the atomic level to the level of bacteria. 

It's enough.

Today, years later, I write about 300 - 600 words a day. Writing is a fundamental part of my life. Like a limb, or an organ. 

Out of my pen came essays, novels, short stories, articles, essays adn poetry. I've had people thank me for helping them through a hard day and sleepless nights. To tell me they've shared something I wrote with siblings, parents, friends, partners and “enemies”. I made them laugh, or think, or curse out in disagreement.

It all grew out of a small promise to write 250 words a day.

How to start?

Start small. 

Very small. 

Tiny, in fact. Smaller than that, even. Microscopic. Get in there with the bugs. Start on the scale of the bacteria, or the virus. 

Baby, go atomic.

Just start.

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