How to Manage a Big Writing Project

By Jill L. Ferguson

You've decided to write a book, and now you are staring a blank computer screen, not really knowing where to begin. You have great ideas and you sort of know what you want to say-but a whole book seems so..well.big.

The easiest way to manage a bigger writing project is to break it down into smaller pieces. Laura Browne, author of Why Can't You Communicate Like Me? How Smart Women Get Results at Work, remembers categorizing her book ideas first into sections, and then she broke each section into chapters. If she focused on a particular chapter or on the ideas in the chapter, she found writing much more manageable. "Just take the writing one step at a time, little by little," she said, "but not necessarily in the chapter order the book will be." Browne actually wrote her first chapter, and then worked a middle section of the book, and then went back and rewrote her first chapter. Then she focused on another section of the book, and then rewrote parts of the first chapter again.

Taking your book or script or play idea-by-idea or scene-by-scene is more psychologically stimulating than staring at the screen and saying, "Ugh! I have 120 pages or 70,000 words to go."

And once you've started the writing process, it is important to get feedback from like-minded people. Find a writer's group where you can share your work with supportive, but honest humans pursuing the same craft-but not necessarily the same genre. These people will help you fine- tune your writing. But, I recommend that you get their comments for chapters/sections/scenes of which you have written drafts, but that you hold off on doing any actual revisions until after you get the whole of the project finished.

In my years of teaching writing classes, I have seen too many students get bogged down on trying to perfect one teeny scene or one particular chapter only to have them a) not have the energy to write the rest or b) grow to despise the project.

By following these two tips: focusing on the parts rather than on the whole, and then finding editorial, emotional and psychological support from other writers, you will be able to manage any project, from a screenplay or stage play to a Michener-esque novel.

Jill L. Ferguson is an editor, writer, public speaker and professor of creative writing, literature and communication. She has written hundreds of published poems, articles and essays. Her first novel, Sometimes Art Can't Save You, was published in October 2005 by In Your Face Ink