To paraphrase the old rub, “How do you write a novel about elephants?”.

The answer, of course, is “one word at a time.”

That may seem obvious or trite depending on your vantage point, but it holds a truth that too many authors overlook to their detriment.

Overwhelmed by Blank Pages

The idea of completing a novel when you’re staring at that first blank page can seem overwhelming. How in the world will you ever write a hundred thousand words of readable content?

It’s almost unfathomable.

But you want to do it, need to do it, so you get started.

You write a sentence. Then another. Maybe you string together 500 words over the course of a disjointed hour.

Then you check your progress against your eventual word target. Great, only 99,500 words to go!

This is where many authors back off or give up completely. The goal is to complete a novel, and they can’t get any real traction in that direction.

What’s the point of banging your head against the wall?

One of the best ways to overcome this kind of progress stall is to set up a series of mini-milestones.

Bite-Sized Tasks Build Into a Full Novel

In most cases, mini-milestones are simply the steps that you must go through to reach your ultimate goal anyway, only you call them out by name. In our example of writing a 100-thousand word novel, your mini-milestones might look like this:

Write a synopsis of the story you want to create.
Build an outline of your story.
Break your outline down into chapters.
Write beats for your chapters.
Write Chapter 1.
Write Chapter 2.
Write Chapter 3.
Write Chapter 4.

Write Chapter N.
Author edits
Developmental edits
Line editing
Copy editing
Final proofreading
Get book cover

Sound like a plan? It’s more than that … it’s actually …

Your Novel-Writing Roadmap

There may be more or less points involved in your actual novel depending on your stage of development and your end goals, but you get the picture. Each milestone in this list is something tangible to strive toward. You can and should assign target dates for completing each one and, when you do, the list becomes a timed roadmap that will take you from your first blank page to your finished novel.

Your roadmap may look daunting — after all, there is still a ton of work to do here. But you’re no longer faced with the entire novel as your atomic unit, and you get the reward of accomplishment every time you knock off one of your smaller milestones. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to reward yourself physically every time you, say, complete a chapter, but you could if that helps you.

It does mean you should revel in the achievement each time, though, even if for just a few moments.

You can get back to work in short order with your enthusiasm high not only because you’ve reached a goal, but because the next goal on your list is attainable in a reasonable amount of time — and it’s something a bit new, which always tends to pique short-term interest.

Use mini-milestones any time you have a monumental challenge ahead of you, and soon you’ll be eating elephants left and right.