Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How to stay Focused on your Writing

By Joe Moore

Happy New Year to everyone as we get the 2013 edition of The Kill Zone blog underway. Thanks for continuing to come by and share your thoughts and comments. If you’re a writer, may this be a great year for your efforts. And if you’re a reader, please pick up or download a copy of one of TKZ author’s books and take us for a spin.

bcsThis past Monday night, not far from where I live, the BCS college football championship game was played between the #1 University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the #2 University of Alabama Crimson Tide. Notre Dame never had a chance. Within 10 minutes the Tide had scored two touchdowns. By the end of the first quarter, they were a yard away from their third touchdown which they scored seconds later at the start of the second quarter. By halftime they were up 28-0. The middle of the third quarter, 35-0. Final score: 42-14.

Notre Dame forgot how to run. They forgot how to throw or catch the ball. They forgot how to block, tackle, or in general, play the game. It was one of, if not the worst championship football games of all time. Somewhere around the middle of the first quarter, the Fighting Irish lost focus. As a consequence, the viewing audience, the fans in the stadium, and even the sports commentators seem to drift away to other things. Not something you want to happen in a major sporting event.

So why am I talking about sports on a writer’s blog? Because what happened to ND and their loss of focus is something that you never want to happen to you as a writer. To help you keep your focus in the New Year, I suggest the following four tips. I hope they help.

1. Set realistic, obtainable goals. Naturally, if you’re a published author under contract, a deadline is the best goal of all. In most cases, there are nasty consequences for missing your deadline. But if you’re writing your first novel or have yet to nail that first publishing contract, the only deadlines are the ones you set. So your goals can be things like word count, pages per day, hours of writing per week, etc., something that is within your ability. If you find that you consistently meet your goal, then consider expanding it a bit beyond your comfort zone. If you goal is 500 words a day, try upping it to 700 or 1000.

2. Set a writing schedule and stick to it. If you work a day job and can only write a half hour a day, make sure you utilize that half hour to its fullest. Don’t schedule it in conflict with other priorities such as family activities. And make sure everyone around you knows that your scheduled writing time is your serious time to devote to your goals. They need to understand how important your writing is to you.

3. Establish a writing “place”, one with minimum distractions. A corner of a bedroom, out on the patio, the quiet of a spare room. Go there when you write and think of it as your “office”. Avoid any place that contains noises, TVs, or any other distraction that could pull you away from your valuable writing time.

4. Consider joining a local writer’s critique group. If there’s nothing available in your area, there are many groups that meet online. Having to produce a new chapter to present to the group each week is a strong motivator to keep you focused and hit your goals. You don’t want to go to the meeting or log into the forum empty handed.

There are many other tips on maintaining focus, but these four worked for me when I started out writing my first thriller years ago. Remember that writing routines like these are repetition that build mental muscles and help your stay focused on completing your manuscript.

Any other tips out there to stay focused as you hone your writing skills?

THE BLADE, coming February, 2013 from Sholes & Moore
"An epic thriller." – Douglas Preston
"An absolute thrill ride." – Lisa Gardner
”Full-throttle thriller writing.” – David Morrell
"Another razor-sharp thriller from one of my favorite writing teams!" – Brad Thor
"History and suspense entangle from page one." – Steve Berry


  1. Great advice, Joe. Top notch. I would advise new writers to follow all of it to a T.

    I'll add: find visual motivators. For me, just starting out, it was getting a coffee mug with WRITER on it. I wasn't able to call myself a writer in public for many years, but every morning I did look at that cup. Twenty-four years later, it's still on my shelf, next to a photo of Stephen King, sitting at his desk with his feet up, looking over a manuscript. That was another motivator for me. I thought, "That's what I want my working life to look like." And it came to be.

    We need those motivators, esp. in the beginning, when the discouragement demon comes to visit.

  2. Excellent additional advice, Jim. I wrote my first book by getting up each morning and working from 5:00-7:00 AM. While my family slept, I would sit at a small desk in the corner of our living room and type away. Then shower and head off to my day job. Like you, it took a long time before I could call myself a writer in public. I had some of those "writer" coffee mugs and other stuff that helped me visualize getting to the point in my life where being a writer is my full-time job, the best job in the world.

    1. Hi Joe,
      I never get tired of hearing these kinds of tips. I always benefit from them. Thank you!
      One of the other things that helps me is to set the timer on my cell phone whenever I get a chance to write. If I'm at work and using lunch time I set it for 15 minutes. Then another 15. I have to write whenever I get the chance in little snippets most of the time, but it's amazing how they add up.

  3. Thanks for the tips.

  4. Hi Jullian,
    I'm glad you find these type of suggestions helpful. As I mentioned, these are what worked for me back in the dark ages. Your timer tip is great, and you're so right that those small segments do add up. Good luck with your writing.

  5. These are great tips, Joe, and all the ones that I use. Nowadays for e-pubs and self-pubs, you often have to set your own deadlines. I write at a minimum pace of 5 pages a day in the writing phase and at least 10 pages a day during revisions. That helps give me definable daily goals. The critique group really helps, too.

  6. These tips are so important. Believe me, I know because I violate all of them with depressing regularity. But you're giving me hope that I can reform, Joe!

  7. Great reminder for those of us (like me!) who need it!

  8. A critique group is the single most effective check for me for productivity. If I go more than a session without anything new to review, I know I'm getting lazy.

  9. Nancy, I'm a firm believer in critique groups. When I first started writing, I joined one and stayed a member for over 10 years. Those weekly meetings were as good a motivator as anything I can think of.

    Kris, judging from the excellent quality of your writing, violating these tips has not hurt you in the least.

  10. Clare, sometimes my TKZ posts are to remind me as much as to help others. It's so easy to forget the basics. BTW, welcome back to the USA.

    Kathryn, you and I are totally in sync on that point.

  11. I'll probably be ostracized for saying this in public, but sports make my eyes roll to the back of my head. But I loved your writing spin on the game all my friends were talking about (and that I didn't watch). ;) All excellent advice!

    I'm part of 2 critique groups, one in person and one online, and I swear by them. I'd sooner give up my writing space than give up my critique groups.

    Thanks and Happy New Year!

  12. Teresa, when my wife and I got married, she had the same reaction to sports. It's taken me over 40 years to convert her, so there's still time for you to come around. :-) Best of luck with your two writing groups.

  13. Excellent points, Joe! Thanks for sharing them. And I admire you for getting up two hours earlier back then to write! I could take a lesson from that kind of dedication and determination!

    LJ Sellers has some great related advice on Crime Fiction Collective on Jan. 4, in her article called "Done is Better than Perfect."

  14. Thanks, Jodie. Nowadays, I get up just as early, but not to write. It's because I'm old and old people get up early.

  15. Add to that, coming to blogs like TKZ for fellowship and inspiration.

  16. Thanks, Terri. Keep coming back.

  17. No matter the experience level of the writer, it's a good idea to block out your online time until you get your daily wordcount quota in. It's too tempting to use facebook, twitter, & email as a diversion to writing. It might seem like multi-tasking, but writing should take priority.

    Developing treats/incentives for accomplishing your wordcount goals can help too. Great start to 2013, Joe.

  18. Good points Joe. So simple, simply practical, yet practically impossible sometimes...or so it seems. I often find myself chasing my own tale (see what I did there.... trying to write and juggle work/family everything else.

    Therefore I am proposing a new clock, with 33 hours of 43 minutes each. I work from 0700-1600, hang with family from 1600-2200, write from 2200-3200, sleep from 3300-0600. Problem solved. The 43 minute hours don't come out even though as they leave an extra 21 minutes at the end of each day those minutes will accumulated on a bi-monthly basis to create a bonus 28 hour leap-day every odd numbered month which is to be celebrated far and wide by all working people by sitting around doing whatever they feel like doing and eating sweet pickled herring at will.

    It has already started...let it be written, let it be done.

  19. Thanks, Basil. I've readjusted my clocks to try your new time warp system. Except for the pickled herring part, it should work. Or not.

  20. You're right, Jordan. There are so many time-sucking black holes online. I'm as guilty as anyone at giving in to them.