How Great Writers Prepare for Big Projects

Great Writers PrepareThis is Day 5 in the Great Writers Series. If you’re just joining us, you can get caught up on last week’s lessons here.

You have something you want to share with the world. Maybe it’s a book, a play, a piece of art, or something else.

Whether you have ten novels under your belt or you’re scared to start a blog, there’s work you’ve yet to create.

And for some reason, you’re still preparing for it. Still waiting for your shot, telling yourself you’ll get to it… some day.

But the truth is you won’t. Not really. Admit it: You’re stalling. Waiting for perfect, all the while letting good pass you by.

There is a difference between putting things off and preparing. Preparation is good; procrastination is not. Let’s talk about the former.

Real preparation

You know you’re preparing when:

  • You’re getting better every day.
  • People keep asking you, “When are you going to publish X?”
  • You’re building measurable momentum.

So let’s say you’re not preparing to launch something big and you want to. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Ship something. Anything. It doesn’t matter how bad it is, just put it out there.
  2. Get feedback. If this is an eBook or article idea, even a book proposal, one way you can do this is ask readers, friends, or fans to proofread something you’re working on. Send it to them, give them a deadline, and ask for brutally honest critiques.
  3. Make it better. Trust your heart and intuition, but also apply some of the feedback you received.
  4. Repeat until the project is ready to launch.

This is how just about anything works in this digital landscape — in a world where technology gives you unlimited chances at success. Ship and tweak, ship and tweak, ship and tweak.

The challenge

See #1. Ship it. Put something out there, anything. Don’t wait; move something forward.

You don’t need to know everything, just the next step. If it’s a big project, you don’t have to finish the whole thing; just finish part of it. But for crying out loud, do something.

Then tell us about it. Heck, share it here with this community; you might be surprised who’s willing to help you and whom you inspire. Whatever you do, make sure you’re doing more than stalling. There’s enough of that already.

Because the work you do is practice for the next thing, preparation for tomorrow. And if all you’re doing is stalling, what are you really preparing for? Exactly. Nothing.

Need help with this? A great book is Do the Work by Steven Pressfield (affiliate link). Oh, and today is the last day to get my audio program, The Writer’s Studio, before the price goes up tomorrow. Grab it here.

How are you preparing for your big project? Share in the comments. And make sure you’re following along on Facebook and Twitter (using the hash tag #15habits).

262 thoughts on “How Great Writers Prepare for Big Projects

  1. Since I’m third generation here in America on my father’s side, I’ve been meaning for some time to interview my grandfather about growing up in a rural town in Italy pre-WWII. Not only do I think he’d love the chance to tell me, but it’s a fantastic learning/writing opportunity. Today/tomorrow I’m going to put together my list of interview questions. That’ll be the next step I take toward completing that project.

    1.  Also–Going to print out Jeff’s “How to Influence People” article as a reminder that it doesn’t have to stop with this interview. I love tacking paper to my bulletin board.

  2. I would love to sleep another hour,
    My eyes are not opening,
    But my conscious pulls me up,
    You have no time left to waste in this life,
    It is not my intention to work like a slave,
    The man on the mirror said, you are,
    You made yourself into that,
    You perfectly grooved you into that,
    You cannot change you any more,
    As usual, I rushed everything,
    Drove fast, sat on my chair,
    Opened my computer,
    Began to write for you,
    I am simply your slave,
    Living just to write for you….


  3. I’ve been sending out queries to agents and plan to pitch to several at the PNWA conference in July. Lauren Abramo from Dystel and Goderich requested the first 50 pages last week so I anxiously await a reply from her. I am very honored she asked as I understand she only has a small client list.

    I am planning to attend my first writer’s group meeting next week. That’s a bit scary. I’ve thought about using beta readers (I think that’s what they’re called) and I have family willing to read and reread…but they have to be nice. It’s like the law. Any suggestions on how to connect with people you can trust with your work? Su

  4. Sorry for the late comment but we are in vacation in Florida and I’m just now having time.  I woke up this morning at 4am to work on preparing and laying an outline for the next 5 months.  I want to have a written game plan to follow and give myself a deadline to help end procrastination.  My plan is to have my book proposal complete by 7/1/2012.  

  5. Inspiring ideas and stories guys.
    Jeff, I am not sure if you have written about this before and I’ve just missed it, but when you write do you said a word count deadline or amount of time? Or, like I am doing at the moment, do you just write until you feel that is all you have left in you for the day? 
    What does everyone else find works best for them? I guess it does not really matter as long as we are writing! Thanks for the inspiration Jeff.

  6. I did something else yesterday which was kind of cool that I forgot to mention. A few weeks ago I attended a sci-fi/fantasy/comic book convention here in town which had a writers’ track. Those are the workshops that I mostly attended. It was the first year for the convention. (estimation was 2000 for attendance for the whole weekend) So, because it was that small, I got to hang out with the writers where they had their tables set up. That was really cool!!!!  One of them who is also a small-press publisher helped me refine the genre I am working in, and another said I was asking the right kinds of questions in the panels. You don’t know how encouraging that was to me. Anyway, after the convention was done, I either liked or subscribed to these people on Facebook. Yesterday, I finished one of the books I had bought and decided to send a friend request to one of them. She accepted, and I posted about how much I had enjoyed the book. Wasn’t really expecting a response–this was an exercise for me in getting past “shyness” at approaching people who have been published. Well, she responded!!! My confidence was really soaring after that. 🙂  Just wanted to share. Hope everyone has a great day!!!! 

  7. You know – you nailed me on this. I’m waiting to ship something because of schedule issues, but I could at least get working on it. I could tweak it in the meantime with a close group of confidants.

  8. My Big Project at the moment is an academic paper on the gender of God. Preparation includes reading as much as it does writing. Right now, I’m only talking about writing the paper. To take the next step, I need to dig into the research. At first, that’s not going to generate a lot of published material (though it will likely generate a lot of written notes). I have a daily word count goal, not a daily get-it-out-there goal, but along the way, I will (and see that I should) pump out some smaller articles both for the practice and the feedback as I work toward the final paper.

    1. Ahhh! A fellow academic writer & a theological (or religious) academic writer as well! I feel as if I am visiting my old neighborhood, Caedmon! I have a Masters in Theological Studies from Vandy. It seems lifetimes ago, but I enjoyed it so much. Is this for a master’s thesis or a dissertation? My assumption was that it is a theological/religious paper, but it could be for other subject areas. (My M.T.S. had concentration in Ethics & Women Studies.) I would love to hear more about your degree, what requirements does this paper fulfill, and what is your main idea & approachto your paper (if you are that far?). I lived & breathed theology from 1990 until 1998. But I still have good friends w/PhDs in religion so, theology/religion is often a part of our conversations, & has never left my reading list.
      Sorry if my enthusiasm is overwhelming. I would love to talk about as much or as little about your paper as you would like.

  9. I am a day late…:) I’ve been traveling but I am making great progress. My big project is writing a book proposal for a pitch session I have. This week I paid to participate in a workshop (which was really helpful). Thus, unlike before I paid for the assistance I needed instead of spending hours, days, weeks trying to figure it out. I am good at learning new things however I want to make the most of this opportunity and my time, which is limited.

  10. I took a weekend off. 
    It was preplanned, a weekend for a family wedding. I chose to be fully there instead of mostly plugged in while physically attending a function. 
    Good news is, I have some things to write about! Bad news is, I haven’t written yet, but I’m about to. As soon as I catch up with the #15habits posts.

  11. Right now, I am writing. I am blogging to try and get an audience, and I’ve joined a writer’s community online and in the area. Still, if I don’t actually work on writing, I will get no where, like you said. 

    Right now, I am working on a book and a collection of short stories. I’m not quite sure how to get them out there yet. I have sent many to online and literary publications, following the whole “ship” idea, but I haven’t gotten much response. Still, I’m working. Can’t let it get me down. I’m just excited to be doing something with it all. 

    I’m perpetually finding that my old work just seems to be getting dated. Which is good, but hard from my perspective. I find myself asking “where are my blind spots” often, as I continue to navigate the world of writing, reading, and getting read.

     Great post. Loving this series. So encouraging. 

  12. I got feedback on a scene I considered risque from a friend in California. She said it fit with the tone of the novel. I still have some editing to do, but right now, my novel is over 63K words long. Only another 30K to go.

  13. I’m not exactly sure what I’ve signed myself up for, but I’m proud to say I went out on a limb (maybe dove into the deep end head-first!).  Here’s the concept that I’ve introduced as a result of being pushed out of my comfort zone to go ahead and try something (with a great friend of mine!). Thank you, Jeff!

    1. Kerri,
      I looked forward to how you were stepping outside your comfort zone. However, when I clicked on the link, it did not lead me anywhere on your blog. Can you try to re-load the link? I’m curious now!

      1. Sorry, Monique. I had turned a few posts “private”, in a moment of weakness!  They have since been made public again.  I apologize for the frustration I caused.  I’d love your feedback.  
        – Ker 

  14. Last night I finally did what I’ve been telling myself I would do for a long time: submitted a guest post to We’ll see how it goes. Sent what I thought was my best post I’ve written. Hard to part ways, but it’s for the best.

  15. Great points about doing something, ANYTHING. I don’t know why, and I’m no different but sometimes people feel like stopping is going to accomplish something. The trick is in ignoring those gnawing feelings of knowing those beginning drafts are worthless. Just write and re-write.  

  16. I started to write Start Schooling Dreams a month ago and I am 1/3 of the way finished with it. It is going to get shipped at the end of July/Beginning of August as it is a month before everyone will be heading to college. I have been writing 2,000 – 3,000 words a day on it and another 200-800 on my own blog. I know I still have a long way to go though but I am just focusing on one mile at a time.

    1. Garth,
      I get this feeling from the brevity of your comment that you will succeed in shipping it in time as you seem very focused on your goal, but know the steps to to achieve that goal. While you have sent it off to some initial places, you can let the m/s rest. Stephen King says to leave it rest a bit then go back to it. If you do not hear the news you want from the first few places, you will have time to re-edit and send it off again.
      I hope you succeed in fulfilling your dreams!

  17. I had trouble understanding today’s goal. I thought you literally wanted us to ship something in the mail. I’m new to this type of writing. I have been an academic writer for 22 yrs w/publications. I am transitioning over into fiction & memoir writing. Tell me if I have this right, Jeff, or anyone else: you want me to tell you about my serious writing ideas/ projects I have begun?
    During the first 2 wks of this year I wanted to write a bk on my 12 yr experiences w/multiple sclerosis and trigeminal neuralgia (TN – severe facial nerve pain pain usually on one side of face) & then my recent diagnosis of diabetes. I have done a lot of medical reseaarch, had multiple pharmacological & surgical treatments for the TN w/no improvements. It was not until 11

    1. My response to your “ship” idea is more about “shipping” my writing idea projects outside of my one friend. These are projects that I have not mentioned to my 2 writing groups because I think my projects are in the beginning stages (barely). Also, I am struggling with my health right now (summer is worse for MS) & so my blogging is not consistent. I want to blog consistently before I can really follow through with these writing ideas.

  18. I am becoming more preparedin that I am gathering courage to be brave, to just do SOMETHING.

  19. Ship and tweak, ship and tweak, ship and tweak.

    If you say so Jeff.

    I still can’t wrap my head around why this would be so hard for me to do. Very reluctant I guess. I get that I am a bit lazy and hesitate to lose control, but my gut reaction is to cross my arms and say “don”t wanna.”

    This makes NO sense.

    Kind of. I feel like my move on this assingment was a jump from the pool side rather than the diving board, but I am working on re-reconnecting with a college friend who is the publisher for Philomel. Like, the head dude I do believe. Head editor dude.

    I’m not nervous about connecting w/him on the friend level – he’s cool.

    So, we are FB chatting a bit and I’m fairly sure he’ll be willing to email as time allows. I asked him to let me pitch picture book idea, and let him know that I actually don’t know if I have time or interest in finishing that project.

    But my project I’ve been working on which is a book about grace, forgiveness, advent and epiphany…I HAVE to get my butt off the fence and on the tractor!

    Keep up the good work all!!!!

  20. I am so thankful for Jeff’s site and encouragement!! I love reading your posts and comments as well. I am in the editing phase of completing my first book – the first in a Bible study series that God has called me to write. This entire writing process has been the greatest challenge of my life thus far. It is comforting to know that others are experiencing similar obstacles along the way. When I get stuck or need a burst of motivation/inspiration I simply visit Jeff’s site and get a little steam to move forward. I appreciate your prayers as I complete this project. How did I become a writer/blogger/author when the tedious tasks like editing require a level of focus and patience I have yet to attain?!? Help me, Jesus! Grace and strength please! Three words of encouragement for all of you: NEVER GIVE UP! Phil. 4:13

  21. hardest part of creating content is drawn by struggling and sacrifices many of us get that easily by practise and positive mind

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