How do you stay focused on writing your novel? What do you do when you’ve got so many ideas popping in your brain that you have a hard time finishing anything?
Marvin posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
Randy, I am a new writer having only been writing for about a year now. I have written a few short stories, poems and screenplays in that time. I now decided to take the big step and write my first novel. I have started on two projects but abandoned them after a few chapters. I am now on number three. I feel strongly about this one. My problem is staying focused on the novel. I have so many ideas for screenplays and short stories I don’t have the time to work on them. They are a distraction. What is the best way to stay focused on a single project or do you think it is wise to jump around between projects? I really want to complete this novel. I have the characters and the story all laid out because it is a story I have already written as a screenplay. I would really love to hear your suggestions. i need help.
Randy sez: This seems to be one of the most common problems for writers, judging from the email I get.
First, let’s make it clear that it’s a good thing to keep focused. If your competition is working on one novel and you’re working on ten, the odds are extremely high that he or she is going to get a novel written a LONG time before you do. The odds are pretty good that you’ll never get one finished. And if you don’t finish it, you can’t sell it.
So how do you do it? There’s no foolproof way to do anything, but let me make a suggestion that keeps me on track.
Accountability. Find yourself a friend who can hold you accountable. That means four things:
- Goals. You’ll make a goal and let your friend know what it is. Example: “I want to finish a novel in the next 10 months.”
- Milestones. You’ll define milestones along the way that you must meet. Your friend should help you do the math to make sure that if you meet the milestones, you’ll hit your goal. Example: “I’ll spend 5 hours per week working on this novel.”
- Updates. You’ll routinely update your friend on what kind of progress you’re making. Example: “I’ll check in with you every Saturday to let you know if I hit my milestone for the week or not.”
- Penalties. You give your friend the power to exact a penalty for not meeting your milestones. Example: “Any week that I fail to hit my milestone, I’ll pay you $50.”
Will this work for you, Marvin? I don’t know. I know it works for me in making sure that I haul myself out of bed at the appointed time every day. Once I get rolling, that’s half the battle.
If accountability works for you, then you’re miles ahead of the game. And if it doesn’t, then you can try something else.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.
I just set a schedule, that I work on my primary book project on Mon, Tues and Weds…the other days, I’ll work on other things…maybe outlines for future ideas and projects.
Just a way to stay on task and focused. Just my thoughts.
Morgan L. Busse says
Another thing I would add: if the ideas floating around in your head just won’t go away, quick jot them down (I keep a couple folders on my computer where I put potential book ideas), then leave them there so you can get back to the book you are finishing. The nice thing about this is once you finish that first book (which is a huge milestone!), you can look through your idea folders for your next book project.
I agree with Morgan, writing down the ideas can help you get them from nagging you. I cannot tell you how many projects I have in the works at the moment, but I am only working on two back and forth. I am not actually writing the novel, I doing the prep work, which is the only reason why I jump back & forth on them. When the time comes to write one of the books that is all I focus on until it is done. I like to write out a chapter a day or two if I can.
If the ideas you have for short stories and screenplays are that strong you will remember them or stick around. Also writing them down when you come back to them later you might not like the idea after all, thus you just saved yourself time from wasting time on a story that you weren’t really interested in.
Hannah L. says
Morgan got to it first! I was going to say the exact same thing. When I have an idea getting in the way of my major WIP, I get it on paper and stash it in my “Story Seeds” file. That helps a lot.
Newburydave (aka Dave Withe) says
I recently participated and “won” at NaNoWriMo (one of many). I was part of a team from Jeff Gerke’s Anomaly web board. We kind of cheered each other on and I think most of us finished strong with novels that we are going to try to develop.
The commitment to a deadline and a daily ‘tale of words’, online graphic and the encouragement of the others in ‘Team Anomaly’ was a major goad to make it happen. I averaged 2007 words a day over 23 days (started late).
For my future writing projects I intend to set up a spreadsheet with graphics to give me a visual cue to keep me on the time line. It seems to work for me.
The motivation is internal. I feel called to writing as a Christian witness so I have an external motivation that is always with me. I think the NaNoWriMo model was a real breakthrough for me in terms of methodology and experience though.
You could try http://www.stickk.com/
It’s a public way to make commitments and have real consequences if you fail to meet your commitment. I haven’t used it, but it seems effective for some people.
Graham Strong says
I started writing a novel in September, and I knew ahead of time that accountability would be a huge issue for me. I write for a living, so actually sitting down to write isn’t so much the problem. It’s writing again after writing all day that I thought might be the challenge.
That’s one main reason why I decided to start a blog about writing my novel. I’m now accountable to the blog. I wasn’t sure exactly if it would work, but after over three months (and almost 85,000 words), I think I can safely say it has definitely helped.
There are other pluses as well: it helps me keep friends and family updated (and anyone else who’d like to follow along for that matter), and it will be a nice account of the whole experience,from the first writing to finally getting published.
But at this point, keeping me focused, well that’s the main thing.
Christophe Desmecht says
I was going to post this on today’s blog entry, but this is the last one I can find. So I’ll just post it here:
Merry Christmas everyone! 🙂
Hi..i need help… I started writing my book last year now I’m stuck or not disciplined in focusing on my book.. i have all the ideas in my head for my book but my problem is putting it down on paper.. what can I do to change this and get going with my writing… my heartfelt thank u in advance…
Philani Mbhele says
Hi i started writing my book a month ago but now i cant continue with it due to stress of how will i get it published,please help me what must i suggest