Long term writing projects (like a novel, or even a collection of short stories or essays) can be very daunting before we take that leap and actually make a start. Like looking up at a mountain when you’re stood at the bottom, all you can see is the sheer scale of the work before you.

This type of overwhelm can look different for everyone - it might make you feel like you’re not good enough, or that you can’t possibly find the time, or even that there’s no point starting because it just seems too impossible.

Breaking a project down into smaller chunks makes the whole thing seem much more possible, easier to start and altogether more doable. It’s taking the mountain one step at a time, looking at the path you’re on rather than the climb still to come.

How To Break A Writing Project Down Into Smaller Steps

Here’s how I break a big writing project down into something more manageable:

  • To start with, get everything down on paper (or on screen if you're better with typing). Fill a big sheet or document with all of your ideas to do with that one project. Work from bigger ideas like themes or topics, right down to smaller, more specific thoughts like phrases or character details. It’s important not to filter or edit your ideas at this stage - the more you can get out of your head the better. A book is a very big project to hold in your head at one time, and I always think it’s difficult to see the shape of it until it’s down on paper.

  • The second step is to rough out a structure. Get your thoughts and ideas organised into some kind of order. If you’re writing a novel or something with chapters it might help to sort your plan into chapter sized chunks - so group scenes ideas together. Work with an idea of beginning-middle-end and push your ideas around until it seems chronological. If you’re writing something non-fiction or essays - put some subheadings in place and estimate a word count for each.

  • Take stock of your time scale. Do you have a deadline (self-imposed or otherwise)? How much time per week and per day can you dedicate to this writing project? How much can you write in a session? For example - I find it helpful to tie a word count goal to a block of time - so I might decide to write 1000 words in one hour blocks. Then if I’m writing fiction I know that 50,000 words is approximately a good size to aim for on a first draft. If I write for one hour every week day, I can aim for 5,000 words a week, and hopefully a finished first draft in 10 weeks. Writing a whole book in 10 weeks sounds pretty scary, but writing 1000 words today? Much more doable!

  • Using your rough order, break the project down according to the blocks of time you’ll be spending on it. Give each week a task to aim for - for example if I’m writing 5,000 words a week I might aim for 2 chapters a week. Use bullet points or even a spreadsheet and plot out your project across your timeline.

    • Eg:

      • Week one - Chapter one - character x is sneaking out to meet character y. Chapter two - character y at school the following day. Character x is missing.

      • Week two - Chapter three - etc...

  • Put your goals and plan on something you can see and track. A wall planner, an open spread in your journal, a series of post-it notes. Anything that you can see from your writing spot, so that you can hold yourself accountable and get ticking off those sessions.

Approaching a bigger writing project one session at a time also helps us stay the course with it. When we have a clear plan and a simple step to take each time we sit down to write, it doesn’t seem so intimidating. All those smaller, consistent writing sessions add up and before we know it - we’ve written a whole book!