Do you have an idea for a book? Maybe you want to write your memoir, a self-help book, a children’s story – regardless of your chosen genre, all writers face the same problem. The tyranny of the blank page.

Somehow that same blank page is much less threatening when you’re writing a 200-word Instagram caption, but when you know this is the first page of what might end up being three or four hundred pages – well, that’s another matter.

There’s no quick-fix to this problem, but by being methodical, having a process in place, it’s amazing the progress you can make. Think of it this way: if you write one page per day, in one year you have over 350 pages. That’s your book right there. Or a first draft, at least.

Okay, let’s get pen to paper.

 

  1. Bullet proof your idea

Can you describe your idea in 25 words or less? While this is a common exercise for screenwriters, it’s useful for authors as well. Distill your idea down to its core. As an exercise, it’s migraine-inducing but it’s worth it. Be ruthless in cutting your idea right down to its essence – so you really get to what is unique about it, or what problem is solves, or what intrigue it promises. All in 25 words. Then test it on friends and family. Watch their reaction when you pitch it. Are you seeing ‘Meh, that sounds okay’ or ‘I must read that’? Keep refining until you get that second response.

 

  1. Research as you go

If your book requires research, it’s easy to get so lost in it that it’s months before you actually write a sentence. In fact, research is often a form of procrastination. ‘Have you done any writing today?’ ‘No, I was researching.’ If you need to look up a date or a fact, or check something with a family member, or visit a particular location, do it at the end of your writing session. Or just make a side note then knock it all off in one go.

If you need to do a lot of background reading, consider audio books so you can research while you exercise or drive or do the washing up. But keep your writing time separate. Get those pages moving, and do the research as you go.

 

  1. Build momentum

For most people, writing for eight hours per day is not realistic. For a start, there’s the day job or other family responsibilities. Secondly, even if you had eight hours to spare, no one can produce quality work for that length of time. You would pass out.

The key is momentum. Even if you only have twenty or thirty minutes per day, if you are disciplined and ensure you give your book that time every single day, you will build momentum. And by returning to it on a daily basis, you’ll find your sub-conscious starts kicking in and at the unlikeliest times you’ll come up with ideas and solutions (here’s when you find yourself scratching out ideas on a nearby pizza box or texting yourself chapter ideas).

So much of writing is about problem solving, and having that thinking time between regular writing sessions is often as important as the sessions themselves.

 

  1. Set realistic goals

As mentioned, a page per day means you have a book completed in a year or so (unless you’re writing an epic). But be careful you don’t set yourself goals that you can’t keep. It’s easy to get discouraged. Better to be modest about what you hope to achieve, but hit that target regularly. Feeling good about what you’re doing is half the battle.

 

  1. Find the time (and place) to write

If you listen to interviews with some writers, you would think that the most important thing in the world is that they are in their study, with their German-engineered chair, imported brand of coffee, in total and complete silence – or they just can’t write. Most of us don’t have that luxury. If you can learn to write anywhere, on anything, at any time, you’re putting yourself in a great position to get your book done. Being flexible in this way is one of the best skills you can acquire as a new writer. Then when you’re rich and famous you can get your purpose-built writing den.

Finally, I know I recommended testing your idea on friends and family. But once you have that short pitch in great shape (it’s going to be your compass as you write – return to it whenever you get that ‘What am I doing again?’ feeling), it’s up to you whether you share your work from that point on.

Many people find it much better to keep it to themselves until it’s completely done. Others like constant feedback. Go with whatever works best for your personality – and your book.

Let me know how you get on. Happy writing.

Kris Evans