How to Get Past a Blank Screen When You Sit Down to Write Your Book
on March 8th, 2017
There is little more daunting than staring at a blank screen and not knowing what the heck to do next. You’ve put all this energy into getting yourself to make time to write, but then where do you begin? You’ve got so much to say, how do you put a frame around it so people can access what you’re offering?
Outlines First Baby!
An outline is imperative to creating a beautiful and intimate book that invites readers into your world.
But why don’t I just start writing?
Great question. I used to when I was first writing screenplays in Los Angeles and that usually resulted in me writing myself into corners I couldn’t get out of. Such a headache! (And quite de-motivating.) And so I learned to put more effort into the outlining phase where problems can be resolved before the deeper writing begins.
You: “Corey, do you mean a skeletal outline like I used to create in school?”
Me: “Heck NO! Those are somewhat pointless, and the last thing you want to do is lead with your head when you’re putting together your outline.”
Here’s what I want you to do:
- Write a paragraph about the one experience above all others that you know simply has to be in the book. Maybe it's the most awesome success or failure you’ve experienced. Maybe it is the pinnacle of your love for your topic or the most terrible you’ve felt about your journey. Either way, think in those extremes and write that paragraph.
- Now I want you to write about another piece you absolutely know has to be part of the book. Don’t worry about where it comes in terms of your timeline, just think about what moves you. Maybe it’s something you learned from an amazing mentor, or a moment from your childhood that defined your path. Write that paragraph.
- Now I want you to think about the next piece of your life story (as it relates to your topic) that you know has to be in the book. Maybe it’s what you learned from your first heartbreak, or how you felt the first time you were publicly acknowledged for something you did. Write that one out in a paragraph.
- You see where this is going? Keep writing out these moments. Some additional pieces to consider include:
- the first time you felt passionate about something and what fire that lit in you,
- the first time you felt shame and how that closed you off,
- a major personal breakthrough,
- a total disaster you caused,
- your moment of greatest joy,
- the first time you felt you were no longer alone in the world,
- the first time you realized you are utterly alone in this world, or
- the day you had the most fun in your entire life…
- Repeat this process until satiated (somewhere around 20 of these is perfect!
Putting the Pieces Together
The point of this exercise is not to structure your outline; it is to recognize the puzzle pieces that will eventually make up the beautiful art you’re sharing with the world. Once you have all the puzzle pieces laid out, play with the order of them.
- Write one summary sentence of each puzzle piece (from above) on a note card or small piece of paper.
- Assemble your stack.
- Throw them into the air to mix them around.
- Gather them up.
- Read through them in this new order.
The goal here is to help your brain to think differently about your story. What is the reader’s journey if you move non-linearly? Compare that to a linear progression of your story. What feels right? Stick with that for now!
Once you’ve settled on an order that feels good (don’t worry, it can change!), you have your homework to tend to. It’s time to sit at the computer and start writing a chapter (Yes! The process earlier left you with chapters. Look at you. You’re such an author!).
You can begin with the first chapter (per how you ordered the cards), or you can start with the chapter that simply moves you most. I recommend starting with an introduction. This sets the framework for the adventure you’re going to take your readers on, and it’s a fun starting place now that you can see the picture that is taking shape.
Special Note: Don’t worry about making it great, just worry about getting a draft out of you!
Once you’ve completed your first one, take a look at your calendar and determine when you can set aside time to tackle your next one. Try and set yourself on a regular schedule until you’ve written a first draft of each of your pieces. (Each one might be captured in anywhere from a few to as many as 30 pages.)
It really is that easy. YOU CAN DO THIS!
Want some extra help? I'd love to hear from you and assist you on your writing journey.
Feel free to reach out for support.
With love in writing,