One of the biggest challenges to writing a book is starting. Putting actual words to “digital” paper can create stress, anxiety, and instill that fear of failure.
Writing in and of itself isn’t that hard but the trap that many people fall into is, where do I begin? Do I write chapter 1 first? Should I start without an outline? Do I need to finish that course on book writing before doing anything?
Resistance to the craft just seems to show up at the beginning of each writing session as we become flooded with feelings of overwhelm, perfection, and the fear of failure. We want to do everything right, to navigate around potential mistakes when writing your book. But this could be the very thing holding you back from starting your book.
So how do you start writing? How do you keep the momentum going each day until finished? How do you deal with the most common sticking points for writers and creatives that show up disguised as procrastination, self-doubt, and uncertainty?
Why do we stop ourselves from starting the things that would bring us the most joy?
If we procrastinate and put off the writing by telling ourselves “I’ll do it later” or “I I’m just not in the mood today”, you’ll walk away from your writing project full of frustration.
Writing a book is like any other project: You have to stick with a schedule, be resilient, and push through the resistance when you get stuck. Small details and not sure what to do next can keep you from making progress.
If you are feeling overwhelmed when it comes to starting your book, you are not alone. This is a common obstacle for most authors, even after they have been doing for years. But there are a few effective strategies we can use to get over this hurdle and become book finishers instead of book dreamers.
In this blog post, I’ll give you some simple strategies for:
- Getting started on your book
- Building momentum
- staying focused on your writing project.
We will look at 8 strategies you can put into action to assure you show up again and again with a game plan to get your thoughts out of your head, down on paper, and into the minds of your readers.
Develop the Writing Habit
To get started on your book, it requires the mindset of “just do it”. Remember the Nike commercial? Doing it means you are moving beyond just thinking about your book. By taking action, you can immersing yourself deep into the process of putting words to digital paper. But to get there, you have to show up and do it. Write that first word, first sentence, and first page.
This can be accomplished with building the writing habit. The #1 reason authors fail to publish a book is because they never finish the book they intend to write. Why? They didn’t do any writing. Or they tried for a few days but realized that, unlike the myths of a writer creating the great American novel and earning millions of dollars from a book deal, writing is hard work.
But you can do this. The resistance you have towards starting your project is just fear. Do you know what the cure is for removing fear? Yes, taking action and just doing it.
Every book I wrote has been published. Why? I finished it. How does a book get finished and ready for publishing? One word at a time. Where would you be if you could write a thousand words a day? One thousand words a day is about an hours work. We spend longer than that a day watching TV or surfing the Net looking for mindless distractions.
Your writing habit can start small. You can commit to five-hundred words a day first thing in the morning. Build up to a bigger word count over the days and weeks to come. If writing is difficult for you, write a page of three hundred words. If that is difficult, write a paragraph of one hundred words. If it still persists, make it a sentence.
Keep breaking it down until you can show up everyday to work on your book. The writing habit isn’t about writing quantity, it is building the behaviour at first. You can scale up as you go.
What most people get stuck on isn’t writing once or twice but to keep it going, to start writing every morning. It is breaking past the first ten minutes of bad writing when the ideas are not flowing and you have to keep pushing forward to get into the flow.
8 Strategies for Starting Your Book and Building Momentum
1. Write in Bite-Sized Chunk Method
Feeling overwhelmed about writing your book is a natural feeling. If you pull a book of your shelf and hold it in your hands, you can feel the weight of it, the amount of words it contains. You know a lot of work went into this book you are holding.
You might think about the author and how much time they spent writing, researching, planning, editing, and all of the other steps that went into getting the book to market. As you think about this, it isn’t any wonder overwhelm creeps in and steals our creative moment.
But remember, every book successfully finished had a beginning. The author started somewhere, even if he or she wrote the ending first. If you are having trouble starting, you can write just a paragraph. Or a sentence. Or the first word. Start with something.
Momentum begins with taking that first action.
Remember what Lao Tzu said: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
Well, the journey of writing a book begins with that first page.
The bite-sized chunk method works because it breaks your project down into a manageable state. It is the act of staying present in the moment and focusing on the Deep Work we can do in the now.
2. Stay Focused on One Project
One of the challenges many authors face is dealing with the horde of ideas that continue to pop up as they are fixated on the one project. I hear it all the time:
I often hear people say: “I have so many ideas for other books I don’t know where to start.”
So most don’t.
Or, “I’m going to write three books at the same time and then publish all three within weeks of each other.”
But they never finish any of them.
My favorite: “I don’t know where to start because I’m so overwhelmed. I’ll just research some more before writing.”
Then the research takes months and nothing gets written.
Staying fixed on one project is challenging but, if you spread your energy thin, you’ll get weak results. When you start something, start it with the decision that you will finish it within a set time period. Have a plan for everyday, even if it is just “write for thirty minutes on my book.”
Writing two or three books at the same time requires high-end organizational skills and experience. Stick with your one project until finished. Having ten books in first draft mode will not do much for your self confidence if you don’t finish any of them.
Remember: only published books can earn you money and get you interviewed by podcasters who want you to tell your story.
Focus on your One Thing until finished.
3. Know Where to Start
Tell me if this sounds familiar.
You decided to wake up early to start writing your book. You sit down. Time passes by. After twenty minutes you still have a Blank page.
You realize you need coffee first to get things moving so you get up to make some.
Come back. Sit down.
Before writing that first sentence, you decide to check your email. Might as well do something while waiting for inspiration. Several emails marked urgent require an immediate response. You take care of that first, still thinking you are in warmup mode.
Then you get several FB notifications on your desktop. You jump over to FB to check it out because that will just take a few minutes anyway while you’re here, and then you’ll start.
Thirty minutes has passed and you are still reading up on today’s current posts that run in an endless loop. Now one hour has passed, you’re tired, and you need a break to stretch.
But, you never make it back to your book for that day.
This is a familiar story with writer’s. We have the best intentions to start writing and then, when we show up to get it done, we make ourselves feel so busy by buying into cheap distractions that nothing gets written.
Once again, we fail to start. This is why you need a plan before you show up to write. Without a game plan, you are inviting distractions in to take over your schedule for the day.
Starting a book the first time isn’t difficult. But starting your writing session everyday can be. Depending on the time of day you write, it is important to be clear about two things:
1. What are you writing about right now? Is it your introduction? The first 1000 words of chapter 7? If you don’t know what you are writing, you’ll lose momentum from the start. Be clear about the material you are working on. Of course you can start cold just to warm up if you aren’t sure, but when you are short on time, every minute counts.
2. How much are you writing? Set a target goal for your session. You can approach this in two ways. Write for a set amount of time [30 minute session]. Or, set a word target goal [1000 words].
Now that we have a plan for what to write, we can…
4. Write With Focus
Once you get into the flow of writing, you want to stay there for the duration of your writing session. Suddenly stopping to check that email notification can break your concentration and set you back 20-30 minutes.
By the time you are done chasing digital data down the rabbit hole, you might not get back to your writing. You started something but you couldn’t finish it.
By jumping around we become less efficient and it takes twice as long to complete our writing. Stay centered in the moment and leave the distractions on the outside.
We can do this by following a few simple strategies.
- Use focus enhancer apps such as pomodoro, coffitivity.com or StayFocused to build more focus into your writing time.
- Turn off your phone during your writing time.
- Inform friends and family you will be unavailable during this time.
Get yourself into the writer’s flow and you’ll become unstoppable while working in this mode. I work with a 25 Minute Timer that tracks the time spent on a project. Take a break and then get back into it.
5. Set Your Creative Mood
The environment you write in plays an important role in writing. Some writers can get focused in a noisy cafe; other people need solitude and the background of quiet music.
Create the environment that is relaxing and settles you into the mood for writing. If you are constantly feeling distracted, you’ll struggle to get into the writer’s flow.
Set your writing session up for success: favorite music, inspirational quotes, or reading a section of your favorite book to get you “feeling” it.
You can even decorate your work area with the pictures of your favorite authors or best writing quotes. Spend 30 minutes to create your ideal space for writing. You will feel more inspired to show up and write even on those days when you are not feeling like it.
Inspiration will not always be there, so you have to create your inspiration for those days when dealing with writer’s fatigue.
6. Use the Seinfeld Method to Stay Accountable
In the early days of his career, Jerry Seinfeld was asked how he managed to create such great content. He said: “The way to be a better comic was to create better jokes, and the way to create better jokes was to write every day.”
Well, as authors, this definitely applies to the craft. The way to be a good writer is to write everyday, and to write everyday you have to set yourself up for success even before the pen hits the paper [or the fingers tap the keyboard]. Jerry Seinfeld used what is now the ‘calendar method’. He called it the “Don’t break the chain” method. It works like this.
Get yourself a calendar and hang it on your wall. Then, for every day that you write, cross an X on the day. You should have a calendar week with a row of Xs at the end. If you keep the chain going, you will have your book written in less than 30 days. But you have to start somewhere.
So start right now and work on your book for 30 minutes today. When you are finished, mark that X on your calendar. If you miss a day, start again and see how many days you can get in a row before you break the chain.
7. Review Your Mindmap and Outline
If you don’t have a well constructed outline, you run the risk of getting lost in your book. This could waste time as you write just for the same of writing without purpose. Your outline provides clarity and direction to your story. Before you write, spend five minutes reviewing your outline.
Create a checklist of chapters and another checklist for the subtitle themes in each chapter. When we can check things off, it gives us a boost in confidence and we know that we are getting closer to our goal: finishing the book.
8. Free Flow for 10 Minutes
You can start with a strategy known as free flowing. This is a random series of thoughts about anything written in word or notepad. Julia Cameron, the bestselling author of The Artist’s Way, called these morning pages.
You don’t have to publish or edit these words. They are for your eyes only. But the key is to start writing something. It’s like working out at the gym. You can’t just walk in and start lifting the heavy weights before you warm-up. It is best to do some stretching with “words” and ease your way into it. You’ll find this will loosen your thoughts and get things moving. I have rarely had a day I couldn’t write if I did this first.
Once you are ready and the ideas are clicking, pull out your mind map or outline and get to work. You can sprint for thirty minute increments or less. I usually go for sixty minutes and then take a five minute break. In two sessions of this I can get on average two thousand words written.
Don’t worry about the word count. We are going for habit building here. Writing is hard if you are not used to it. You need to break yourself into the habit at first; after a couple of weeks you’ll be flying straight ahead.
Dealing With Resistance
It is a common obstacle that resistance to the writing is going to show up and hold us back from creating. Resistance is a form of fear that latches onto the mind and pulls us off course. If you let it, resistance will turn into a heavy form of procrastination. For years I resisted my natural urge to write. I would give into the resistance and take the easy path: watching TV, playing games or the like.
Resistance doesn’t have to defeat you. As long as you follow the first two steps you’ll be fine. But getting started, even if it is one word on paper, can turn the momentum into a powerful snowball. There are several levels to this obstacle and each one can be stronger than the last depending where you are in the process of writing.
So to revamp, here is your checklist for getting started on your book. If any of the components are missing you can go back and complete them. When you have a checklist it sets the pace for your writing schedule. I use this still even though I’ve been wiring for years because the urge to procrastinate and get stuck still shows up.
Know when to write. Set your writing session for the same time each morning. I set mine at 5:30. In order to start I have to show up at least by 5:25. This gives a few minutes to get relaxed and comfortable. I’ll spend a few minutes thinking about what I’ll be writing about. Then, using the Pomodoro technique you can set your writing session for twenty-five minutes. Take a five minute break. Go for another session.
Be ready with your outline. Have your outline ready to go. This keeps you on track and makes sure you have all your ideas organized in a natural flow. When you get stuck you can go back to your outline and find what comes next. Your outline is the roadmap for your book. Make it as detailed as you can and you’ll get finished faster with a solid outline ready to send to the editor after a quick self-edit.
Read morning affirmations. Affirmations are powerful snippets of positive “juice” that set the tone and atmosphere for writing. An affirmation for a writer could be a quote from a writer, motivational or inspiring words from someone who has been there and done that. I keep a collection of affirmations in a journal and, when I am struggling with a writing session, I’ll warm up by flipping through these affirmations for inspiration.
Here are some inspiring quotes to start with:
“It doesn’t matter how slow you go as long as you do not stop.”
“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”
— E.B. White
“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow know what you truly want to become.”
— Steve Jobs
“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”
— J.K . Rowling
You can do this. You now have ten mini-strategies for starting your book. The fears of writers rejection are being stamped out as you set out on an incredible journey to becoming a published author. I know there is a long road ahead, but you plug at this everyday and you’ll get your book done.
Just do it.
Start with that first word.
Build with small steps.
Your next bestseller is closer than you think.