How to get past that blank page and write your first book

black typewriter

The first words are often the hardest. It’s often one of the biggest roadblocks preventing people from writing non-fiction. Mike Fishbein provides advice to get started and urges us to seize the amazing opportunities that self-publishing a book presents. 

Staring at that blank page and blinking cursor is not fun. It’s as if that cursor is just mocking you. Laughing at the fact that you can’t get thoughts onto a page. Writing the first words is like taking that first step out of bed in the morning. It’s a small physical action that carries enormous emotional weight.

Once you take your first step out of bed it’s easier to take the second, and then to take on larger actions like showering or getting dressed to go to the gym. Similarly, once you get past the blank page and blinking cursor, you can start building momentum and the words start flying off your fingers with less and less effort.

“Turning the thoughts in your head to words on the page is one of the hardest parts of writing for many people.”

Figuring what to write is hard. Finding time to write is hard. Making the words sound nice is hard too. But turning the thoughts in your head to words on the page is one of the hardest parts of writing for many people, myself included. Below are my 7 favorite tips connecting your brain to your typing fingers and getting your fingers moving so you can get your first words down.

1. Oversimplify

You wouldn’t start training for your first marathon by trying to run a marathon on day one. Instead you might try to run a couple miles. Small chunking is a good idea when it comes to writing, too.

Describe the topic of your book or your main points in one or a few sentences. And then expand each component of what you’ve written in to paragraphs. Or, start by answering what your 3 biggest tips are. Then your 5 biggest tips. Then your 10 biggest tips. Then elaborate on each of them.

If you’re writing a book about leadership and one of your main angles is that empathy is crucial, you might write one sentence explaining that what empathy is or why it’s important.

2. Talk and transcribe

Many people find it easier to talk than to write. They can talk for days about topics they’re passionate about, but they can’t seem to be able to put their butt in the sit and actually write them on the page

If that’s the case for you, try recording yourself talking about the topic you want to write about. Then transcribe the audio into text format. You could do the transcription yourself, use Dragon Dictation software, or outsource it to a virtual assistant or someone on Fiverr.

3. Brain dump

Write whatever comes to mind first. Write down the first thoughts on the topic that come to mind. It doesn’t have to sound great or even make sense. You can edit later. Remove all filters to help you get started.

This is how I start all my books and individual chapters within the books. Sometimes I end up writing about stuff that’s not even relevant, but it gets you in the zone of writing. It helps you build the “muscle” that connects your brain to your typing fingers.

If you try to make your words look pretty at the same time you try to get the words out of your head and onto the page, you make it more challenging. Running one mile is a lot easier than running one mile in five minutes. After the words are on the page, you can make them look pretty yourself or hire an editor.

4. Reformat your existing video or audio content

To avoid the sometimes strenuous process of thinking of a new topic, and then getting those thoughts into words on the page, you could summarize or transcribe content that you’ve already produced in audio or video format. Transcribe an interview you gave or a presentation you made at a conference.

5. Outline

By the time you sit down to start writing, you should have an idea of what topics you want to write about and what chapters to include. You could start by writing down those topics as an outline to your book. The outline can give you some writing prompts. For example, if you’re writing a book about skiing, you might want to include a chapter on how to find good ski gear. Writing down “How to Find Good Ski Gear” as a chapter title might cue your brain to think of all your favorite tips for finding ski gear or a story about how you’ve found your ski gear.

6. Paste in blog posts you’ve already written

Simply having words in front of you can set you past that seemingly massive first step of getting past the blank page and blinking cursor. Like finally getting out of bed, or putting on your gym shoes, sometimes it’s all you need to get in the zone. From there you can modify and elaborate upon what you’ve pasted in.

how to write a book in 10 daysI recommend delivering more value to readers in your book than what they can find for free on your blog. Amazon also has a policy against duplicate content. Add examples and stories. Explain things in different ways. Provide more detail.

The more you write, the more content you will have for future books. The more you write, the easier your books get to write and the faster you can churn them out. This blog post is actually adapted from a chapter of my book, How to Write a Book in 10 Days :)

7. Outsource the writing

If you know what you want to write about, hiring someone else to write all or part of your book can give you a good base to work with. You may find it easier to edit it than to write it.

You could send your writer an article (or multiple articles) that you like on the topic and ask them to rewrite it. It could be an article you’ve written, or someone else’s. This usually costs slightly less than completely outsourcing the writing. In addition, you can be more confident in what you’re going to get back because all they have to do is re-word, as opposed to writing something from scratch.

I’ve only tried outsourcing, and just for 1,500 words of one of my books. If your writing goal is to make money, outsourcing might be a more viable option for you as it allows you to write more, faster. If your goal is to build your personal brand or spread a message, you may want to consider writing everything. Your book is your product and it affects your reputation. Outsourcing makes for a good option if you’re completely stuck. Otherwise, I’d recommend finding other ways to break through.

Mike Fishbein is the self-published author of over half a dozen books, including How to Write a Book in 10 Days. He has been published in Business Insider, Entrepreneur, The Huffington Post and more. Mike’s personal blog is mfishbein.com.

Mike Fishbein About the author: Mike Fishbein is the self-published author of over half a dozen books, including How to Write a Book in 10 Days. He has been published in Business Insider, Entrepreneur, The Huffington Post and more. Mike’s personal blog is mfishbein.com.