Start With Whatever You Have

An anxious student staring at their computer

You’re uncertain.

Your idea is incomplete.

You don’t know all the steps.

You’re not sure how to say what you want to say.

No problem. You can begin anyway.

Too often, students let these be reasons to hesitate, to avoid starting, to procrastinate. They believe, mistakenly, that you can only begin a math problem, a science project, or an essay if you’re already certain of the entire process.

Rarely in life do we get to feel completely confident about what we’re doing. It’s impossible to predict the future and foresee all the steps that we’ll need to take. Uncertainty is the norm.

You cannot allow feeling unsure to stop you from moving forward, from trying things, from going for it. You must cultivate the ability to start anyway. School, it turns out, is a place to practice this vital skill.

So don’t wait for the full thought or the feeling of confidence to begin writing. Start with whatever you have. It’s okay that it’s incomplete. It’s okay if it doesn’t sound good. It’s okay if it doesn’t completely make sense yet. It’s okay if it ends up being wrong. That’s all part of the process.

Writing down whatever you have in your head frees up space in your working memory, allowing for more and better thoughts. Write those down too, as soon as they come.

Think of it like finding your way through a corn maze. You can’t see the end. You can’t see what’s around the next corner. You just have to keep walking. Try stuff. See where paths lead. You’ll make wrong turns and hit dead ends, but that’s okay. You’ll never get to the end of the maze if you just stand there.

A child walking through a corn maze

This applies to writing essays and stories as much as it does to solving math and physics problems, conjugating Spanish verbs, and just about everything else students get asked to do.

Being unsure of your ideas is normal, and it’s not a valid reason to be stuck.

Begin anyway.

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