Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Nine Ways we Lose Control of our Writing

Having a writing dream is easy. Maintaining, nurturing, growing it from dream to reality, day in and day out, year in and year out, is not.

Some writers think that writing a book is among the hardest things there is to do. When I look at what humankind has achieved outside of writing a book, I highly doubt that assertion. Let's get real.

But there is a steep learning curve, and it does take a concerted amount of effort to become a published author, whether you're going traditional or indie. 

Here are nine ways that we lose focus, and how to get back on track.

1. We don’t set goals. Goals need to be specific enough to write in a sentence or two. You need to set a date when you expect to achieve them and, again, you need to be so clear as to the results that you know when you have achieved them.

2. We set impossible goals. Goals need to be within our control. Completing a book in a year is within our control. Seriously. Signing with a particular editor who sells it to Random House and then having it hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list, if you are a debut author, would be an exponentially more difficult. Not impossible, but pretty unlikely.

3. We don’t pay attention to our goals. Don't create an elaborate calendar of what needs to be done and then ignore it completely. This is different from not setting goals at all, but not much.

4. We decide to quit working on our goal because we’re tired or stressed. Regularly scheduled breaks will enable us to keep working longer. Vacations help to ward off burnout. Just be sure to get back on track as soon as the break is over. Don't allow it to linger on for another week or two or three.

5. We attend to immediate situations to the neglect of long-range ones. No matter how busy we are, if we hope to have a writing career, we need to schedule even a small amount of time each day to work on writing goals. Now that writing is my job, it's easier to find time to write, and yet it sometimes amazes me how hard I need to work to protect my writing time. I have inherited from my aging father-in-law the job helping to move farm machinery during the spring and fall. I'm more available to babysit grandkids, and so that happens at least once each week. My social life could easily burgeon. Fortunately that one is generally the easiest one on which to set limits for most people. It's easier to say "no" to friends than it is to family.     

Take a hard look at how you spend every hour of each day and then brainstorm ways that you can fit in writing time. Maybe you could exchange babysitting hours with a friend. Maybe you could cut back on TV viewing. The possibilities are endless.

6. Sometimes we give everything the same priority when in fact, many things are not as important as protecting our scheduled writing time.

7. After a perceived writing failure, we focus on calming our emotions—overeating, watching too much TV, endlessly telling our friends all about it—when the better solution is to get back on track and start writing again. Granted, we need to take some time to process our volatile emotions. But for some personality types, this can stretch into days and weeks. If you are one of those types, take heed. 

Feel the pain of failure and then, as soon as possible, face your fears of returning to your writing goals. The best way to do it? By sitting down to write. It's uncomfortable. I hate it when anxiety feels like a cat clawing at me with very sharp nails. It spurs me to do any number of things to escape it—I’ll do three loads of wash. I’ll vacuum and steam clean the floors. I’ll eat a huge plate of carrot salad. No, two plates. I can’t eat chocolate or sugar, so rabbit food with a lot of chewing works well to calm me. 

But after that, I need to plant my butt in the chair and begin to write again. Once I’ve been at it for four or five hours, the pins and needles of anxiety melt away.

8. Another way we lose control is that we allow an initial failure snowball. Dieters are famous for this. If we blew it at one meal, we figure we might as well blow it for the rest of the day. Or maybe the weekend. Maybe we’ll get back on track on Monday. The same thing can happen with our writing. We miss one writing session and then, before we know it, we haven’t written for a week, and then a month. It’s much easier to get back on track immediately, rather than after we haven’t looked at the book for two weeks.

9. We decide we can’t write and we stop trying, in order to avoid further failure. Never stop! If you want to make this dream become a reality, you only fail when you stop.

Are you guilty of any of these? What do you do to get your focus back?


  1. This was a good exploration of how writers lose focus. At times, I am a great procrastinator, and it can be for any one of some of those you listed. But having a concrete goal is what always gets me back on track again. Some deadline that cuts through all the temptations to dawdle.

  2. This is a great post, Cathy. I have been guilty of all of these, I think! But I've been especially guilty of letting anxiety (that my book isn't any good) take over and paralyze me to the point where I'm reluctant to put aside a project that needs some time in the drawer and start something new.

    The thing that is helping me to get over this paralysis is knowing that my book isn't worth the kind of stress it's giving me, no matter how good it is (and I know it's not that good, at this point). I've made my novel too important. My family is important. Being kind is important. My book is also important, but much less important than my anxious response would make it. Telling myself all of these things has helped me to take a step back from writing and look at it more as a job, and not as a representation of my soul. :)

    I love what you wrote, that "Some writers think that writing a book is among the hardest things there is to do. When I look at what humankind has achieved outside of writing a book, I highly doubt that assertion. Let's get real." The next time I let my book become bigger than its britches, I'll think about Rosa Parks or another such individual who changed the course of mankind. Or I can even think about J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, which has made voracious readers out of many children and adults. That'll help me "get real!"

  3. Kim, I happen to KNOW that your book is far from not being any good. It's also not who you are. That you are a writer is part of who you are, and the book is part of being a writer.

    I'm glad my thoughts helped you to make a paradigm shift that will, hopefully, take away some of the anxiety you feel and help you to "finish the damn book" (as Cherry Adair says).

    Hugs, Kim. I believe in you and your writing. You CAN do it.


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