Feeling blocked? Often writer’s block just means you don’t know where to start. Use the procrastination-busting tips in this chapter to create a work environment that helps your creativity flow.
Jody Rein, former executive editor with divisions of HarperCollins Publishers and Penguin Random House, is the founder of boutique literary agency Jody Rein Books, Inc., and respected publishing consulting and coaching firm Author Planet Consulting. Jody has represented, published and coached hundreds of authors through successful publication in every form, from e-books to international bestsellers to major motion pictures.
Michael Larsen, co-director of the San Francisco Writers Conference and the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference, is the author or co-author of eleven books. He is an author coach and a former agent, having co-founded the Larsen-Pomada Literary Agency, which sold books to more than 100 publishers and imprints.
Commit Your Calendar
Begin by giving yourself the gift of time. Schedule writing time in your calendar for the next six months: Mondays and Wednesdays from 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., for example, or Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. It doesn’t matter if you can commit to only thirty minutes a week at first; any regular commitment will move your project forward.
Whether you write, research, or just review the chapters in this book, consistently devote the time you’ve set aside to something that relates to your proposal or manuscript. Make the time pleasant, not painful. Brew some tea. Get comfortable.
Forgive yourself when you must make changes to your schedule. Don’t use a missed session as a reason to give up or panic; simply treat it as an objective fact (“whoops, missed a writing session”), and reschedule.
You may wonder if you should also schedule specific writing goals, like “I’ll finish my platform section on July 7.” You can do this, but commit to just one piece at a time. If you try to schedule out the entire proposal—“I’ll finish platform July 7; author August 10; and outline September 3”—one missed deadline can screw up your whole plan. It’s disheartening, not to mention annoying, to change the subsequent completion dates. On the other hand, finishing that one section you’ve penciled into your calendar, and then setting a flexible due date for the next one, will motivate you.
Flash-Write a Portion of Your Book
Write with your mind wide open.
You think you want to write a book. How do you know for sure? Before taking any other proposal-planning steps, use your scheduled time to flash-write a portion of the manuscript. Don’t worry about writing beautifully; don’t worry about researching thoroughly. Jot down xxx in the manuscript to mark places where you need to add more information. You’ll be redrafting and reconfiguring this material much later in the proposal-writing process.
Don’t move on to the next step until you’ve written thirty double-spaced pages from anywhere in the book. Be self-aware as you write. Let this flash-writing exercise help you answer the following crucial questions:
- Do you truly want to write this book? Did it hold your interest for thirty pages?
- Is there enough material to sustain a book? After thirty pages, you’ll know whether your idea is broad enough for a book or if it’s better suited for a blog or an article.
- Do you enjoy writing? Books can take years to write. If you hated the process of writing thirty pages, it’s time to find a ghostwriter or invest your energy elsewhere.
- How do you want to write your book? Until we do, we can’t know. Only writing will answer questions about style, tone, and organization.
As you flash-write, ideas will occur to you. You’ll come up with potential titles, form questions you want to research, and think about structure. Keep a separate idea sheet handy, and jot down thoughts as they pop up. If you don’t, you’ll feel distracted as you write. If you do, you’ll have the ideas ready when you need them for your file buckets, which we describe in the next chapter.