When you're undertaking a big writing project – such as a book – or even a medium-sized project, like an essay, it's easy to get overwhelmed. The usual advice, which I'm sure you've heard several million times before, is to break the work into small, manageable chunks.

Even Mark Twain was rather humourless on this point. "The secret of getting ahead is getting started," he wrote. "The secret of getting started," he continued, "is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one."

Efficiency guru Brian Tracy says much the same thing, but more colourfully, in his book titled Eat That Frog. (I'm going to trust that you get the metaphor.)

I love this "start small" concept, but I've noticed that, with writing, it sometimes falls apart. That's because you tend to forget the details of what you were doing the previous day (or week), and you lose your place. Worse still, you lose your momentum.

As I worked on my book, 8½ Steps to Writing Faster, Better, [Norm: if you could link to: http://www.publicationcoach.com/my-book/that would be great!] I decided I really had to wrestle with this momentum problem. Each morning, sometimes starting as early as 5:30 a.m., I'd write for an hour or two. I'd be sleepy and disoriented and not feeling very motivated. My solution? I needed direction. So, at the end of each day's work, I sat down and wrote myself a letter that I could read the next morning.

It pleases me to call this the Fats Waller secret, after his famous song, I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter. (I know the music was written by Fred. E. Ahlert and the lyrics by Billy Williams but I stick by my title because Waller was the one who made the song a hit.)

In my letter to myself, I outlined the specific writing tasks I needed to do the next day. It might have been instructions such as, "create a mindmap about XYZ." Or I might have said, "figure out a metaphor about "xxx" that would work in here."

With experience, I also discovered that it was sometimes best to have a spectacularly easy task to begin my writing day, so, from time to time, I would assign myself the job of producing a simple sidebar or a list of bullets.

The key thing was, I wrote these instructions to myself after a time of being thoroughly immersed in the project. Thus, when I came back to it, the letter brought me fully up to speed without wasting any time.

In this manner, I aimed to produce

...Words oh so sweet

They're gonna knock me off my feet...

Thank you, Mr. Fats Waller.