On the heels of discussing creativity killers, it's time to touch on another important aspect of getting your writing done. Focus. And on some days concentrating on writing is easy. You sit down, and the words seem to spring forth with little effort. You are surprised to look up and see that not minutes, but hours, have passed. However, other days you barely write a sentence before the distractions start bombarding you from all directions. Chores need to be done, you have several personal calls to return and text messages to answer, not to mention the boatload of e-mails (and/or social media updates to check), and your dog is begging to be walked. Many of these things can be postponed or delegated (okay, the dog walking may not be able to wait too long), but they are nagging you while you're trying to write.
But books, articles, and blog posts won't write themselves, which means writers need to concentrate long enough to complete them. So what should you do to stay focused?
1. Set small goals. There's that word again—goals. Break your writing down into manageable word count blocks (for instance, 500 words) or agree to write for a certain amount of time, like one to two hours. Having a goal to work toward helps me immensely when I'm trying to maintain focus.
2. Turn off electronic distractions. This came up in my creativity killers post, and I'll mention it again because it can't be emphasized enough. Turn off the distractions. Close your e-mail program, turn off your cell phone, and avoid social media until your writing for the day is complete. Better yet, close your web browser so the minimized window won't be lingering down at the bottom of the screen taunting you.
3. Create a schedule or to-do list. If you have multiple writing projects active at once (novels, short stories, articles, etc.), create a writing schedule with specific time slots for each. That way you won't be working on one project and wondering if you should give some attention to another because you already know when you'll get to it. Remember the 6 Ps: Proper prior planning prevents poor performance.
4. Acknowledge the distraction. Have you ever tried meditating only to have thoughts intrude? If your mind wanders while you're writing, the concept is the same. Acknowledge that this will happen occasionally, and accept the distraction for what it is. And then gently remind yourself of your goal and return to your writing.
5. Reward yourself. Create small rewards when you meet those small goals. Allow yourself a bit of time to indulge in one of those distractions, go for a walk, have lunch with a friend, or something that is not writing related so you can return to your desk refreshed.
Whatever you do, don't beat yourself up when you get distracted. It will only lead to self-defeating thinking and possibly cause you to give up for the day. If focus is a serious problem for you, consider meditating before you start writing. It won't solve all of your problems, but it will definitely help.
Have you ever noticed that there never seems to be enough time? If you don't have a list of calls to make or clients to follow up with, you are probably behind on that pile of laundry or have a pile of unwashed dishes awaiting your attention. And worst of all, you have no time to write. I will admit that while I can make time to write an article or a critique for a client manuscript,when things get busy, my creative writing suffers severe neglect.
So what's a writer to do? With all the demands of building a career, maintaining a household, and caring for a family, how does one find the time for creative pursuits?
First of all, you need to admit that you will never have enough time to do all of the things that you want to do. If writing is your passion, you have to make it a priority. And while you can't “manage time” in the strictest sense, you can manage your use of it.
1. Look at how you are using your time. If you are not sure where in your day time is being wasted, keep a log of how you spend an average day or week. How much time are you spending on Facebook or Twitter? Can you cut back on how much television you watch? Are these things you need to be doing, or are you procrastinating? If you truly are busy, consider getting up earlier. If you don't write well in the morning, you can finish some other chores in the morning and write at time that's better for you.
2. Plan as much of your time as possible. Make lists—weekly lists, monthly lists, daily lists. Think on paper. If you don't write it down, it will probably fall by the wayside if something else comes up. Whether you use a pen and paper, a smart phone, or an electronic tablet, record all of your tasks, preferably in the order of their importance. Add writing to your list. Whether you choose to write daily or on certain days during the week, schedule writing as a priority.
3. Can you delegate? This is especially true for household responsibilities. If you are married or live with a significant other, perhaps you can ask your loved one to take on a few more of the household chores to leave you with time to write.
4. Break up longer projects into smaller chunks. This may seem obvious, but writing a 100,000 word novel can seem overwhelming when you are starting out. As I said in my post about writing goals, set a long-term goal and short-term ones for bigger projects. Plan to write 300 or 500 words a day, depending on what your schedule allows.
5. Once you've set the schedule, sit down and write. Whether you've planned to write an article, short story, or 500 words for a novel, you need to take that time you set aside and write. There really is no replacement for this part. Sit down and don't get up until you're finished.
Yes, this is a challenge, but if you want to achieve your writing goals, planning your writing time and keeping the schedule is the best way to assure success. Trust me. I understand how easy it is to get overwhelmed during busy times, to become immersed in a distraction, or to make excuses. But don't let it happen to you.
So what are you waiting for? You should be writing already.