For the past two weeks, my mind has been all over the place and I have found it very difficult to focus and reach my daily word limit or use the time I have allocated to myself for writing. In my case that was because of weariness (it’s this time of the writing process where I need to take a couple of days off from writing, though saying it is one thing; doing it is a struggle against my guilt for it, haha) and because of a minor health issue. It made me think about it, however, so today I thought I should write a few things on the topic of staying focused.
Mind you, this is my take on the subject based on personal observations. It doesn’t mean the following will work for you too. It may be worth giving it a shot though, if you find it hard to stay focused.
Early on, when I had just started writing, I kept finding articles about the need to have a routine because it would help an aspiring writer. At the time I thought of that as too much, arguing that inspiration is not something that you can just summon out of thin air and expect it to work. I thought to myself that it would be better to just feel the need to write rather than force it. It wasn’t until almost a year later that I tried it. Since then I have seen remarkable change in the quality of the work I produce and, most of the time, it’s almost as if my mind switches on for writing when the time comes. True, not every day’s work is something I’d keep during revisions BUT the point is this daily ritual keeps me focused and eager to write. You may say “but you have a novel to write and to plan the next one, therefore you can stay focused.” True, but when I didn’t have a novel in mind or didn’t feel like doing it, I went on to my tumblr account, found a photo I liked and a wrote a short story of no more than 1000 words, just to keep me in shape. Did it help? Looking back to it, I think it added its own little corner stone. Had I written whenever I felt like it, chances are I would have never written anything or it would have been impossible to tame my mind now that I have work to do.
2. Time allocation
Yeah, that one’s a bitch. Our daily lives are packed full with things to do that somehow appear (and, to some extent, are) more important that just sitting down and scribble make-believe stories. However, you won’t get any writing done unless you allow yourselves to have even a 30 minute time frame to sit down and write. It sounds ridiculous, right? 30 minutes, you say? That’s all? Well, if that’s all you can spare in a 24-hour long day, then that’s all you can spare! Would you rather not spare it at all and keep your stories in your mind or in the form of notes? As long as you can find the right time for this 30-minute window, then you will be able to use it to your advantage, provided you have first followed suggestion number 1 above. I think the two work well together. You won’t produce 2000 or 3000 words per day but you will produce 500 words and that’s 500 more words than doing nothing.
3. Setting goals you can meet at the end of the day
I guess ultimately this suggestion could be part of both previous suggestions but I think it should be on its own. Writing something big, like a novel, with so many distractions around you (*cough cough* internet distracts people?! Life does that too?!) it’s nice to have set manageable goals for each day and see them come to fruition. My goals, as far as writing is concerned, are to end the day having written AND read for a few hours. See? Nothing grand or intimidating; just stay focused on my writing and reading routine basically.
4.Use some sort of an outline
Let me be crystal clear about this: not everyone can work with an outline. I’m not suggesting that everyone should use an outline. What I am saying is give it a shot, see if it works for you. Just do it right before you decide it’s not for you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an outline in the most detailed form (like the snowflake method myself and others use, which could be a book of its own if you think about the amount of words written there). You could just have a notebook by your side when you first get an idea, write your thoughts down as they come and then rearrange them accordingly to have an easy flowing plot and story. That way you can save a lot of time during editing and revising. I tried writing “on the fly” when I first started and it felt nice. It felt very creative. But I had ideas popping up every page for things that had happened many chapters before because the story shaped itself as I wrote it. That meant I had to go back and change things in previous chapters or inserting a comment on the page to correct it later. Eventually, my mind got bogged down. I had material to write, ideas to use but it was a mess in my head and I felt overwhelmed. The result was to almost give up, thinking I just wasn’t good enough for it. The feeling sucked! Why? I wasn’t focused!
5. Try not to edit before you finish the entire work
Following the previous suggestion, it may be a good idea to avoid editing last day’s work on the following day. I know a lot of professional writers do it (if I’m not mistaken, G.R.R. Martin does it?) but they are who they are and have years of experience. For me, an aspiring writer, I feel that if I were to follow that I would most probably end up editing the edited edits (!!) more than actually producing new material. Which in turn would mean that staying focused on whatever new I had to write, would be a struggle. I don’t know, it’s possible I’m weak-minded and lack discipline. Think about this, however: this may work for you if you have very little time to spend on writing. If that’s the case, the last thing you want is to spend these precious 30 minute window you have into editing instead of finishing your story up and then edit.
I keep an excel file where I copy (yes, copy) entire sentences and phrases from books that I read. These sentences usually refer to things that an author used in their story and had troubled me in the past or perhaps ways the writer used to draw my attention to something. I then go over them, study them and see how he/she handled that similar situation. I try to see the technique used, how each sentence is structured and then try to see how would I write it instead. The result I produce is usually sub-par BUT during this process not only I get to learn how others (better writers than me) worked their way around my problem but at the same time I put my mind into the whole writing process again. Which as I pointed our earlier, keeps me focused 🙂 Also, while reading a book you may get that light bulb over your head glowing with an idea. Which gets the productivity juices flowing etc etc.
7. Avoid wasting time on the internet
Since most of us have things happening in the house that distract us all the time, try not to add another distraction. If you can, refrain from checking your Facebook feed or tumblr or whatever else you use. I have finally managed to free myself completely from Facebook (even though I have my personal FB page and my author page) and I hardly ever check them. In fact, at the end of the day, I may check momentarily my author page, just in case a new follower appeared or someone sent a message (which hardly ever happens, by the way). But now that I’ve freed myself from Facebook’s clutches, I’m more focused and I feel happier when I see it’s one o’clock in the afternoon and I have written almost 2000 words.