Recap: In the previous module, we looked at getting off to a good start, which doesn’t necessarily mean beginning at the beginning. Hopefully you’ve picked a single project to focus on, and have had the chance to spend at least 15 minutes on it. Do pop over to the On Track forum and let us know a bit about your project and how your 15 minutes went!

In Module Two, we’re looking ahead to the rest of your project. Chances are, it’s not something you can finish in a day. We’ll be looking at three big ways to break it down, working from the biggest to the smallest chunks:

  • Different drafts
  • Major sections
  • Chapter by chapter

(We’ll also cover ongoing projects, like blogs, which don’t quite fit these chunks.)

A huge project like “write a novel” or “create a popular blog” can be pretty overwhelming. Perhaps you get stuck after the first few days of work – especially once your initial burst of energy has petered out. And with some projects, it’s easy to go off on a tangent, not really knowing what you should be doing next.

Breaking your project into chunks makes the writing much less daunting. Instead of having the whole thing in mind at once, you can focus on finishing the next stage. It’s up to you what size “chunk” you want to think in. Here are the three key ones to consider:

#1: Break Your Project Into Successive Drafts

Drafts are the biggest chunks you can realistically work with (and, unless your project is quite short, they’ll need to be split down further). Your first milestone is “draft one” – however rough and ready that is. The next is “draft two”, and so on, until you have a “final version” that’s good to go.

For smallish writing projects, like a short ebook or a long blog post, drafts can make great milestones. For big projects like novels, you’ll want to celebrate the end of each draft (with champagne, if you’re so inclined…) but you’ll also want to chunk down within the drafts. What counts as a “finished” draft?

  • A first draft gets you from the start to the end of your project. There’ll be lots of missing pieces or rough edges, but you’ve got most of your ideas down in words – even if it seems far from perfect.
  • A second draft involves reorganising, adding new material, cutting sections which aren’t working, and so on. You won’t usually be tweaking individual words at this stage; instead, you’re making sure that the draft is coherent.
  • A third draft might involve getting feedback from other people and incorporating that into your project. At this stage, you’re focusing on making the whole piece flow smoothly.

You may only need two or three drafts, depending on how complex your project is and how well the earlier drafts went. We’ll be looking further at the drafting process in Module Five. For now, the main thing is for you to keep going with whatever draft you’re on – probably the first.

#2: Break Drafts into Major Sections

You’ll normally have particular sections to complete within each draft of a project. For instance:

  • Your novel might divide into several plot stages, separated by turning points or major plot events.
  • Your book or ebook might have three big sections dealing with different topics.
  • You might have a big plan for your blog involving several distinct stages, like producing a series of posts and then writing a short free ebook.

Each of these sections can be a milestone – something to aim towards and celebrate finishing. If you’re drafting an ebook, for instance, you might aim to finish a particular section each week. If you’re writing a novel, your sections might be several chapters long, and you might aim to complete one every month, writing a chapter a week. For short non-fiction projects, your sections might be your chapters themselves.

#3: Drill Down to Chapter by Chapter

With long books – whether novels or non-fiction – you’ll be breaking your work into chapters. These form your smallest chunks. “Finish novel by the end of the year” seems a very long way off in May, and doesn’t necessarily give you much sense of urgency. “Finish chapter three this week” is a lot easier to focus on.

Working on a chapter-by-chapter level also helps with planning – you can write a chapter outline (it doesn’t matter if you eventually end up deviating from it) so that you know roughly where you’re going next.

If you don’t tend to plan much, you might want to keep a spreadsheet of your chapters. Jot down major events and characters involved (in a novel) – or key points covered (non-fiction). This is very useful when you come to revise your work. (We’re going to be covering planning in more detail in Module Four.)

>> Click here to go to the second part, where we’ll go into more detail on using your milestones effectively