This week I am continuing my series of posts on writer’s overwhelm. I will publish three posts that discuss the three areas I heard writers complain about most often: feeling overwhelmed about their actual writing projects, feeling overwhelmed about the need to start blogging and feeling overwhelmed about the need to spend time on social networking.
Today we start with the overwhelm that comes from tackling a large writing project, like a book. However, some writers might even feel overwhelmed by writing a 2,000 word article. Here’s the trick: Much like chipping large rocks into smaller ones, as discussed in my last post, you want to take your large rock—your book or article—and chip it down into smaller rocks or pebbles. These are much more manageable to lift or move around. They don’t look as intimidating. And you can deal with them one at a time and feel as if you are accomplishing something. In fact, if you move two or three pebbles each day, before you know it, you’ll have a large pile of pebbles on our desk. And in a week or two, you might have moved a medium sized rock. In no time flat, you will have moved that large rock.
The process is simple really. Take your writing project and write down the title or the subject on a piece of paper. Underneath this, write down all the subjects you need to cover. For a book, these might end up being chapters. Break these down into sub-topics. For both a book or an article, these might be subheadings. You can even break these down farther into sub-sub-topics. Now, start out with whatever feels easiest. You don’t have to start at the beginning if that feels hard. Tackle something that feels manageable and work forward from there. Pick up a pebble and move it. Do this once a day or more often if possible.
For example, maybe you need to conduct some online research or contact someone for an interview. Do that first if it feels easier and manageable. Then write up that part of your project. Or choose to begin writing the chapter that you know the most about.
You also can break your large rocks into smaller ones by taking your table of contents for a book or your basic article structure and then formulating questions you think you need to answer within the context of the project. Ask yourself what your reader wants to know. Once you have questions for each chapter or for the body of the article, simply start answering them one by one. Later, get rid of the questions and edit in transitions. (I find that books and articles set up as a Q & A are not as interesting to read.)
You can take this approach with any writing project and it will work. This weekend at the Truckee Meadows Community College Writer’s Conference, broadcaster and writer David Stipech called tackling writing projects in small increments a The Great Adventure approach. I’ve found the approach very useful. In fact, I applied it to my blogging and blogged a book—actually now I’ve blogged several short books in addition to How to Blog a Book. Blogging a book—writing 250-500 words a day and publishing it on your blog—utilizes the same idea. You simply break your book into small chunks—blog posts—and write for short periods of time—30 minutes or so (however long it takes you to write 250-500 words)—until you complete your book.
All these approaches have the same effect: They decrease your writer’s overwhelm. So try one out, and tell me how it works for you. Leave me a comment below.