Rosanne Bane, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer's Resistance, has been coaching writers at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis for over 20 years. One of the tools she uses to help writers conquer their fear of the blank page is technique called Action Mapping.
“Action Mapping”, as Rosanne explains it, is simply taking into account all of the steps you need to go through to complete your project. Rather than starting with a great big assignment like Write the Great American Novel, writers are encouraged to break down the task into small, actionable steps that can take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes each.
Jotting down one task per Post-it® Notes, a typical writing Action Map might include:
Outline the article
Talk to research subjects.
Find readers willing to give feedback
Ask readers for feedback
Review feedback from readers
Submit to publication.
Request writing contest rules.
Brainstorm plot points.
Create backstories for characters.
Draft part of first chapter.
As you list tasks, transfer each Post-it® Note onto a poster board or file folder. It doesn't matter what order you put them in at first, just as long as you can access them easily. Later if you wish, you can rearrange the Post-it® Notes to group related tasks.
At this point, your project should start to feel do-able.
According to Rosanne, “Writers need to have options so when they come to their writing project, they know where to start and they can pick something to work on rather than staring at a blank page or screen like a deer in the headlights. Coming up with an Action Map allows writers to jump right in before their fears get the best of them.”
Another benefit of Action Mapping is how easily it lends itself to over-achieving. As Rosanne explains, “Once you’ve completed a 5-minute task, you get a quick taste of victory which can often leave you craving another hit.”
Having all your actionable items visible in front of you also allows you to pick and choose what you’re motivated to do in the moment. You might think I’m not ready for this. Nope, not that one either. Oooh, this looks good. This is the one I want to work on today.
Action Mapping also addresses what Rosanne refers to as the number one reason so many aspiring writers never sit down to write: time, or the perceived lack thereof. “But when you have small tasks, you can always find 10 or 15 minutes to at least start one. Frequent short sessions tend to reduce your chances of feeling like, “it’s been weeks or months since I’ve done anything!” Or worse, “I’ll start writing when I have plenty of time to devote to this.”
No stranger to the blank page herself, Rosanne recommends her tools because she uses them herself.
“I use Action Mapping for my own projects, including my most recent book. We even created an Action Map to plan our anniversary party.”
Whether you’re trying to write your personal memoirs or a proposal for work, Post-it® Notes can be a great way to tackle something big — by starting small.
You can pick up more of Rosanne’s tips and tools for writers at baneofyourresistance.com.