The hardest part about writing is knowing what to write.

Syd Field, a writer and mentor I admire, says this a lot.

To some writers it seems a strange thing to say. Some writers think they have a very good idea of what they are writing about, and that’s enough to set them off on the writing adventure.

But that’s not what is meant by it.

It’s about having a plan about what you are writing, having a fixed idea of where you are going to start and finish, of what comes in the middle, of all the transitions, of where the writing is going based on what it is about.

Knowing what to write. At each stage, what is needed, what writing needs to be done to achieve the results you want?

Not knowing where you are going with a piece means you won’t know how to get there.

The biggest challenge to knowing what to write is half-formed ideas. Ideas that have not been fleshed out, that don’t have a complete structure. You may have the nub of a good idea and set off, hoping that the act of writing will ‘reveal’ the whole idea, will bring it to completion and make it make sense.

That never works for me. And I don’t believe it works for most people.

Whether you’re writing a screenplay, a novel, a blog-piece, a recipe, a magazine article, or whatever: you need to know the details – what, exactly, is the piece about, how does it end and how do you get there.

Defining the idea you have is really important.

Writing out the idea, what it is, what it covers, what its end goal is, understanding what you really want to say: that’s the first step in knowing what to write.

The exercise of expressing the idea in a four sentence paragraph is a really good one.

Try it. Take the idea you have and write it down in a four sentence summation.

That’s what you will be writing about.

Once you have that you can start to look at what you need to write to get the job done.