A lot of beginners go off the rails when they’ve got a nice clean sheet of paper or a blank screen in front of them and they’ve got to fill it with words – meaningful words.

The way to avoid the cold feeling of panic is to have a plan of action. The type of plan that works best for you depends on your personality. Some of you will make structured lists, with every small detail itemized and all T’s crossed. Or you may have a vague set of instructions, sometimes little more than remembering to have a beginning, middle and end. Others of you will find that the best way to work is just to start writing and see where it takes you.

The way to find what will work for you is to plan out some example pieces of work. You might never write them, but the practice will benefit you. For example, how would you go about writing an episode of your favorite TV show, or an article on a local photography exhibition, or a review of a best-seller? By writing a plan of approach, you’ll give yourself an idea of what the final piece of work would require. When I started writing short stories I used to deconstruct famous stories and plan how I’d re-write them.

The planning step also gives you a check as to whether or not you actually want to write the piece. And remember, if you plan not to have a plan, you’ve still decided on a plan. And don’t stop here.

It’s now time to plan your opening sentence. To get readers to keep reading you need a hook, something that will lead them in and keep them there until you’ve told them what they didn’t know they needed to know. Crime writers kill people, romance novelists have people get divorced, good writers hint at a conflict to come but hide it in the middle of something else. Journalists scream at you in huge type and article writers ask you rhetorical questions, all in the first five seconds of reading.

Go away and study the structure of some writing. Look at how writers grab you and reel you in like an expert fisherman.

And ask yourself, “How would I do that?