Take the next small step

What to do when you’re stuck in your writing

Anne Janzer
3 min readMar 20, 2024
Skis at the edge of a steep ski slope.

“A mountain is just a series of hills.”

My father said this to me me this as we stood together atop a long and intimidating ski run. No doubt someone had told him the same thing.

I was willing myself to tip over the edge, without success. He pointed to a spot past the first headwall and said he’d meet me there. Section by section, we made our way down the slope, plotting the short run ahead of us.

The saying stuck with me over the years, although I have stopped downhill skiing. (It works for hiking, too!) I return to it whenever I face a large project-writing or publishing a book, moving, anything that feels overwhelming. All I need to do is tackle the next small step.

This approach shuts down whatever’s freezing me, whether that’s fear or confusion.

Whenever you find yourself frozen or stuck on a big project, look for the small hills.

Getting around the defenses

Imagine that you’ve done all the research for a book and cannot make yourself start in on the draft. Or, you have an idea, but cannot commit to starting it. Or perhaps you’ve written something, but going through the publishing process seems like too much.

What’s really holding you back?

Most of the reasons fall into one of three buckets: lack of time, feeling unworthy (Imposter Syndrome), or fear.

Let’s start with lack of time-the least emotional.

Don’t have enough time to write a blog series or a book? Fair enough. What if I asked you to find 20 minutes today to do some freewriting? Could you do that? And tomorrow? And the next day? I know plenty of folks who have written books while holding down jobs, parenting, and more. They understand the magic of the next small step.

Feel like an imposter? Like you’re not a “real writer” or have nothing worth saying?

You’re not alone. But rather than confronting it, let’s bypass it.

What if you spend time writing down the things you do know? What if you research and explore more? What if you structure those thoughts or share ideas with other people? Do the next thing, and you will expand your expertise.

How about fear, or Resistance with a capital R?

Yes, putting creative work out in the world is threatening. You don’t have to publish right away, only start. Know that you’ll have time to revise, to polish, to get feedback. Eventually, with a little support, you will have something that serves other people. Helping others is worth facing down a little fear.

Trust the process

To use this strategy, you have to know how to break writing into its smaller steps. Don’t sit down and say, “It’s time to write my book.” That’s enough to send anyone screaming for the hills. Say, “Today I’m going to do one thing that will further the book.”

When you trust the process, you can write something rough or ugly because you know you’ll get to the revision and editing step. When you trust the process, you can start exploring ideas that may take your further than you are today.

This “next small thing” approach gets you past the hurdles. Sure, you may move slowly at first, but you may also discover yourself picking up momentum.

Further reading

Not sure what your next step is in the writing process? Check out the Writing Recipe from The Writer’s Process, or read Why Writing is Like Baking Bread

Like the mountain metaphor? I’ve used it before in this post, specifically for book writing: What’s Your Mountain

For more advice on overcoming Resistance, read (or re-read) Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art.

Image: DepositPhoto Author: londondeposit.

Originally published at https://annejanzer.com.



Anne Janzer

Author, Writing Coach, Unapologetic Nonfiction Geek. Writing about Writing Itself (very meta). AnneJanzer.com