I recently made a list of 10 truths that I’ve revisited recently in my own writing career in regards to staying focused and to “finishing the book!”
But these are truths that also apply to life in general.
Which of these 10 tips resonate with you?
- Disconnect…and be disciplined about it—
So easy to say, so hard to do.In my early years of writing there weren’t as many distractions as there are today—yes, we did already have cell phones and email (I wrote my first novel in 2002, not the dark ages!)—but phones and email and social media weren’t the “great commanders of time” as they seem to be now. The number of ways to communicate has increased exponentially since then. Which, in turn, has contributed to our lack of concentration and ability to focus.Now there’s Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, blogs and the list goes on and on. An author could easily spend the majority of her time doing social media, staying connected with readers (which is an absolute blast!), and sorting the rest of “life stuff” that always crops up—and never write. Or at least never finish that novel.The best—the only—way I’ve found that works for me is to turn it off. Literally.
Okay, don’t really destroy it.But close your email. Silence your phone. Turn off notifications. I’ve even gone so far as to turn off the wifi connection on my laptop (#trueconfession). The main goal is to set aside a block of time when you’re not multitasking like a banshee. Give yourself the permission to do that (and gain agreement from family members to respect that time, too). It’s transformative!Something else that works for me is to set a timer for 30-45 minutes. And for that block of time (whatever works best for you) all I do is write. Just. Write. If I come across a question I need to research, I write it down on the pad of paper beside me—which is vital!—and then move on.Inevitably, thoughts will come to mind—people you need to reach out to, an errand you need to run, that quick email you intended to write yesterday that you could “take just a second and do right now.” But don’t! Make a note of it and then move on! Writing those things down (instead of simply trying to “dismiss them” or making mental note) really helps to let go and keep powering forward.Instrumental music also helps me get into—and stay within—the flow. I have a playlist entitled Music to Write By and—for whatever science there may be behind the therapeutic aid of music—this works for me.
I love research. I adore it. I’m convinced I could research for a living. But researching can oftentimes become a form of procrastination.
At times, I have to go back into my story and strip out parts of description where I’ve crossed the line of telling the story and, instead, am giving a mini-lecture on the medical procedures of a certain surgical practice of the 19th century simply because I found it so fascinating.
Save this information for your website. For instance, do a Truth or Fiction page for your novel where you can share more of this fabulously-detailed-but-not-at-all-interesting-to-some information with your readers. I did this for A Note Yet Unsung and also To Wager Her Heart, and these are highly visited pages on my website. Love it!
3. Take breaks…but set a timer—
I do love my timers, can you tell?
Taking a break—reading a book, watching a movie, taking a walk, washing those dishes, doing that laundry—can give your mind a break and even fuel creativity. But, again, they can also be sneaky forms of procrastination. Set a timer and then get back to writing!
4. Know your characters—
The best way for me to get to know my characters is to write a free-form biography of their lives (thanks, Robin, who is one of the people who encouraged me to do this early on). This is a document that only I ever see. I don’t worry about punctuation or grammar. I just write about those characters—their families, their perceived strengths and weaknesses, the pivotal moments of their lives, their deepest fears, their proudest achievements—until they become “real” to me.
This step makes all the difference in my writing. And I do this for secondary characters as well.
Incidentally, when I’m majorly struggling with a certain scene, I also ask myself if I’m writing that scene from the best choice of POV character. That makes a big difference, too!
5. Have healthy snacks at hand—
Creativity needs physical fuel as well as mental fuel. Yet as a rule, I don’t eat at my desk while writing UNLESS it’s a portioned-out quantity of something where I can’t absentmindedly crawl into the bag and eat my way to the center of the earth. And do your best to choose healthy snacks that won’t cause your blood sugar to tank. Writing can be a fairly sedentary career, so eating well and getting regular exercise is huge for staying well equipped to write.
Something that’s helped me in this regard is that I went Low Carb Gluten Free (#Keto) in June 2016. I’m down 28 lbs since then and love this lifestyle. I was a total Carb Queen. And I do mean total. So for me to do this was huge, and it’s made such a difference in my life. In my health. If you’re interested in finding out more, visit my Low Carb Love page on my website.
I’ve already mentioned reading as a creativity fuel in a previous tip, but reading really is essential. The old adage, “If you want to be a great writer, you must be a great reader” still holds true. Read broadly. Read books out of your normal-go-to zone. Stretch yourself!
7. Set realistic deadlines—
Deadlines are great motivators but unrealistic deadlines are flat defeating. Been there, lived through that. Too many times. If you’re writing for a publisher, be open with your editor about needing more time on a manuscript. Don’t want until the last minute to tell them that. Be honest with them—and yourself!
8. Find a writing critique partner—
Deborah Raney and I have been writing critique partners for going on 14 years (love you, Deb!), and she adds so much clarity and perspective to my writing. Plus critiquing someone else’s work teaches you so much about your own (similar to how we can see others’ faults but not our own…ahem.)
I share about writing with a critique partner here so if that topic speaks to you, you may want to check that out.
(Don’t Deb and I look so sweet? #lookscanbedeceiving)
9. Remember Who you’re writing for—
As a follower of Christ, everything I do—my writing included—is a form of worship to him. Spending time in the Word of God is essential. A friend suggested Bible Study Fellowship to me, and this is my seventh year to take part in that study. Life changing!
Remember, if God calls you to write, he’ll also equip you to write. Lean into the eternal confidence of the One who’s called you, not in your own ability to complete the task.
10. Finally, reward yourself—
When you meet your daily goal, reward yourself! Celebrate! Watch that Redbox movie, settle into the comfy chair with that book, scour that antique shop, attend that yoga class. But when you don’t meet your daily goal, then—coming full circle back to #1 above—don’t reward yourself.
Since I moved to the Low Carb Gluten Free lifestyle, I do a ton more cooking and baking than I used to. Because truly LCGF products simply aren’t that readily available. So part of my reward system involves cooking and baking. I’ve discovered an entirely new realm of “fun in the kitchen” since going LCGF and that involves cooking and baking differently. So…that’s oftentimes my reward. And it’s a huge motivator for me!
So, find your own motivator and put it to work for you!
I hope at least a few of these tips have been proven helpful. And, as Deb (my writing critique partner) and I always say to each other when we make comments in a first draft—TorT! Take or Toss! Take what works for you, babe, and toss the rest!
So which of these resonated with you?
And if you’re also a writer, what else have you found that helps you to stay focused and finish the book?
Blessings on your Tuesday,