Today we welcome a guest post from C. Hope Clark. She’s celebrating the release of her eighth mystery, Newberry Sin. Hope is a writer I admire and I’ve learned so much from her over the past few years. I began following her when I first began freelancing and discovered her weekly newsletter, Funds For Writers. Her book, The Shy Writer Reborn, soon joined my other writing books on my bookshelf – and is the one that’s most marked up, dog-eared, and highlighted.
Join us today as she shares her wisdom about becoming a focused writer. Then, hop on over and check out her mysteries. They’re excellent too!
How to Become a Focused Writer
By C. Hope Clark
The faster this world revolves with the advent of technology, the more choices we have in everything we face. The speed of that information, and the resulting demands on our time due to all these opportunities thrown in front of us, the less we feel in control of our time.
For a writer, all that noise, tugging, and temptation takes a toll on concentration. So how is this writer supposed to pay attention to deadlines, much less the intricacies of storytelling, when hit from all sides with the busy-ness of life?
- Create Structure. Think of a child with autism or ADHD. One of the first suggestions to help them cope is to establish structure to their days. These children become flustered with too much stimulation, unable to process it all. Sound familiar? Same logic applies to a writer. Set a time and place to write if it does not come natural to you. When that time comes, and when you enter that space, your mind will ultimately adhere to the routine and kick into writing mode. If you cannot guarantee a place, at least adhere to the time wherever you are. Disorganization = enemy of focus.
- Have a Plan. What do you want to write? You cannot get into a car without a strong sense of where you’re going. Short stories? Poems? A novella? Make it practical because saying you want to become a writer then starting with a novel is like asking a new attorney fresh out of law school to represent a serial killer. It’s paralyzing. But if you are sure you want to tackle a book, then have a plan for the stages you’ll write it so that the project isn’t intimidating. Intimidation = enemy of focus.
- Have a Fun Backup Plan. You delve into your main plan, and you can’t make the words happen. Have three backup plans. First, write something short and fun. This might be all it takes to unclog things by making you enjoy putting words on paper. Second, write a letter to someone who has deserved it for a long time. Write it longhand, since this form of writing will tap a different part of your brain, giving the obstinate side a rest. . . maybe a chance to shake loose and want to go back to work again. Third, journal about your day. This exercise lets you fall naturally into a subject matter, freeing your writing, Do NOT let a sluggish attempt at writing give you permission to redirect to email, social media, or games. Distraction = enemy of focus.
- Keep Showing Up. The worst of days, when you hate the idea of sitting at the computer, are the days you need to show up most. That’s because you are demonstrating to your obstinate, pig-headed (maybe lazy) self that your writing is meaningful and important. Athletes hit the track. Swimmers hit the pool. Show up until the very act itself is as inherent as brushing your teeth. Irregularity = enemy of focus.
- Inform Family and Friends. Do not allow interruption. When you are in your place, in your time, you are at work no differently than if you’d commuted downtown, parked your car, and sat behind a desk with a boss looking over your shoulder. Once you give interruptions (and the interrupters) a palms-up stop-sign reaction, they’ll think twice about whether the interruption is necessary. Or they’ll leave a voice mail. Or they’ll come back later. Interruption = enemy of focus. Interruption = enemy of focus.
- See the End. How will you imagine the day you type the last word of the last chapter? How will it feel to send off the manuscript? Have a legitimate plan for a celebration or establish a reward system. No goals = the enemy of focus.
- Be the Writer First and Foremost. When your mind wanders, and you find the writing difficult, you do not have permission to start searching for editors, publishers, agents, or indie presses. This is a VERY COMMON tangent writers take when they cannot focus. They justify switching gears to the publishing side of the house with the argument that they need to understand how to publish so they can prepare. And the book never gets written. It’s easier to read blog posts, participate in discussion groups, and watch educational videos about publishing than it is to write. You have to become a habitual writer before you even think about publishing. Ignoring Craft = the enemy of focus.
We forget the elementary, basic fact that we are just trying to write. Nothing more, nothing less. When we allow the obtrusive racket of people and Internet to interfere, and when we attempt to write without much thought to the direction, we have already decided not to focus.
Focus isn’t out of your control, on the contrary. But there isn’t a magic formula to put your fingers on the keys and type words on the screen, either. We wish it were easier, but focus is self-imposed, and it’s so much simpler when infused with structure, planning, goals, and dedication.
BIO: C. Hope Clark has just released her eighth mystery, titled Newberry Sin. She is also a freelancer and founder of FundsforWriters.com, and a frequent conference speaker, and podcast presenter for Writer’s Digest. She lives on the banks of Lake Murray in central South Carolina with her dachshunds and federal agent husband. www.chopeclark.com