Writers come in all shapes and sizes. Some write for a living as freelance writers. Others wear a writer’s hat while in college or university. Still more slip into a writer’s shoes as they prep presentations and communications at work. Whether you’ve been writing for six months or six years, you no doubt agree that when you’re in the zone, you’re in the zone. But if you lose your focus you’ll spend hours staring at a blank screen, eyes watering as your deadline looms.
Regardless of whether you’re a writer 24/7 or sparingly, maintaining your writing focus is essential. Without it you’ll find yourself wasting precious time, which is why I’ve compiled 20 easy tips anyone can implement to maintain their writing focus.
Tip #1: Set Realistic Goals and Deadlines
There are two kinds of writers: Those under contract and those not. For contracted writers, deadlines are a universal constant; most work for copywriting agencies. These agencies generally supply regular work and deadlines. It’s important to ensure your ability to meet the deadline before accepting it. There’s no shame is admitting a deadline is beyond your means. In fact, in my experience, honesty is the best policy. It builds strong business relationships and respect.
For non-contracted writers, goals and deadlines are a little different. Since they aren’t under contract, the urge to slack off can become a crutch. Whether you’re working on your first novel or blog, it’s important to set a deadline and stick to it.
The Kill Zone offers some noble advice about setting realistic and obtainable writing goals. Your target can be anything from a predetermined word or page count per day to hours of writing per week or anything else within your reach. The trick is setting a realistic goal based on your abilities and circumstances.
Tip #2: Pay Attention to Your Schedule
Regardless of whether you write for a living or not, setting a schedule can be a major help in the focus department. It’s particularly helpful for students. Pay close attention to how and where you plan your writing time. The Kill Zone raises a valid point:
“Don’t schedule…in conflict with other priorities, such as family activities. And make sure everyone around knows that your scheduled writing time is your serious time to devote to your goals.”
Tip #3: Create a Distraction Free Work Area
Distractions are a nightmare. But let’s be honest; they’re a fact of life. We can never be free of them, but we can take steps to limit their impact. One of the best ways to nurture self-discipline is to create and harbor a distraction free area.
A lot of writers work from home, and a lot of home offices are set up on the kitchen table, in the living room, or in the bedroom. Know that you don’t need a spare room for an office. Although it is ideal, it isn’t necessary. The trick to setting up a functional home office is choosing an area you can control.
For example, when I first started working from home, I didn’t even have a desk. I had a sofa and a laptop; I didn’t even have a dining room table! I saved my earnings from my first few jobs and bought a desk, which I set up in the bedroom. I chose the bedroom because it was the one room I could fully control. There was no television, no radio, and a door I could close (and lock), but lessening my distractions didn’t end here.
I learned the hard way that the Internet itself can be a distraction. Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ can be sources of inspiration, but they can also be major interruptions. Thankfully, modern technology is awesome. You can use apps to limit distractions and maintain focus. Check out the 10 recommended apps from JaneFriedman.com, all designed to turn off background noise.
Tip #4: Admit When Something is Beyond Your Ability
This tip is especially important for freelance writers. If you are a self-employed copy or technical writer, it is absolutely vital to know your limitations. It’s likely you’re running your own business with your own client base. You might be working for a copywriting agency on the side to fill the gaps between client projects. Regardless of how you’re making your living, you’re doing it by writing. Therefore, you need to know what is within and outside of your abilities.
Until you’re comfortable with your abilities and know what you can and cannot handle, don’t take on projects that push you too far outside of your attainable skills. If you do, you’ll endanger your writing focus. Now, this is not to say that you shouldn’t continually expand your skill set and try new challenges; you should. But don’t put your reputation, quality, or the happiness of your clientele at risk in doing so.
Tip #5: Keep Your Muse Fresh
Subscribe to a blog, keep a podcast handy, flood in some RSS feeds, read, read, and then read some more. The idea is to keep your muse fresh.
The more you read, the more likely you are to spark unique ideas and stay energetic and focused. When you feel your focus growing blurry, take time to pick up a book or peruse an RSS feeds. Reading keeps the writer’s mind sharp while refueling their muse.
Tip #6: Stimulate Your Creativity Regularly
Writer’s block is no laughing matter. When it hits, it’s like slamming into a brick wall. It’s especially bitter when you’re under deadline. Keeping your focus by stimulating your creativity on a regular basis can help prevent (or at least lessen) writer’s block.
You can encourage your creativity through any number of activities; attending workshops and conferences, writing exercises and prompts, reading, and people watching are a few ideas. Whatever avenue you choose, be sure to make it a regular occurrence. For more guidance, check out the Examiner article entitled, Stimulating Your Creative Genius.
Tip #7: Push Yourself
Writing is just like any other job; sometimes you just don’t want to do it. When this urge hits, push yourself.
Now, I’m not saying to avoid taking breaks or stay up into all hours of the night (or day, depending on your schedule). What I am saying is don’t allow your focus to blur because procrastination takes hold.
Push yourself to accomplish something productive, no matter how small. The resulting sense of accomplishment can sharpen and encourage your creative focus.
Tip #8: Stay in Practice
Vacations are fine, but be sure you get back to it. Freelance writers are in the unique position to schedule around their lives. While a nice perk, it can be a wicked temptation. Whatever you do, don’t get lazy. Instead, stay in practice. Even if work is slow, push yourself to meet your own self-set writing goals.
Tip #9: Don’t Let Mistakes Get You Down
You’re human. I know, I know. You feel like a zombie more days that not. But seriously, you are human. Sooner or later, you’re going to botch a project. And to be blunt, the fault may not lie completely on your shoulders. One of the perils of this profession is miscommunication or a total lack of communication on the client side. You can’t fix their shortcomings. You can only improve upon yourself.
So, when you make a mistake and have to redo a project or save face, don’t let it get you down. Accept it as an unanticipated oops, learn from it, and move on.
Tip #10: Don’t Let Criticism Get under Your Skin
Critics are everywhere. Know that criticism is usually healthy. It can strengthen your weaknesses and expand your perspective. Yes, there will be uncalled for comments—especially if you write about a controversial topic. Don’t let criticism get under your skin.
Instead, take criticism at face value, glean whatever good can come from it, and find a way to use it productively, even if you don’t agree with it. Keep an open mind.
Tip #11: Immerse Yourself in a Writing Community
There’s nothing like surrounding yourself with other writers; people who get your quirks and understand your passion. A great way of maintaining your writing focus is to immerse yourself in a writing community.
It’s likely you can find a local community of writers if you look. If you’re more of an Internet person, check out WritersCafe.org. Writer’s Café is a great online community filled with amateur to seasoned writers, all ready and willing to chat. You can share your work in the café and even search for publishers, literary agents, and literary magazines.
Tip #12: Read Books about Writing
When I feel my focus slipping, one of the first things I do is grab my Kindle. I start looking for books about writing. Reading the advice of other writers can inspire and maintain your focus. A few titles I highly recommend include:
- Write Good or Die – Survival Tips for the 21st Century
- 250 Things You Should Know About Writing
- 500 Ways To Be A Better Writer
Tip #13: Understand the Writing Process
The writing process is very real. It’s comprised of steps, including:
Cori Davan, our resident fiction expert, recently talked about the writing process in detail. Familiarize yourself with this process. Keeping your focus can sometimes be as simple as following a working set of steps religiously.
Tip #14: Stay Positive
“A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events, and outcomes. It is a catalyst, and it sparks extraordinary results.” –Wade Boggs
Too many random things can crash your writing focus. The stress and expectations of everyday life can wreak havoc with it. Keeping a positive attitude can make a huge difference.
Don’t believe me? Stop being a pessimist, try being positive for a week, and report back. Trust me. It works.
Tip #15: Listen to Your Audience
Feedback of any kind can inspire a sharper sense of literary focus. Good reviews inspire us to write more. Bad reviews motivate us to silence the critics (or at least shock them).
As you find ways to maintain your focus, look to your audience. Not only will their feedback help you find and hold direction, but it will also keep them exactly where they need to be—front and center in your creative process.
Tip #16: Surround Yourself with Things that Inspire
What inspired you to become a writer? Was it a book, person, or quote? Whatever it was, keep a reminder of it nearby. Collect things that inspire your creative process and surround your work area with them.
If you’re like me—working with a toddler and newborn in the house—you know that, your work area is arbitrarily at the mercy of little fingers. Until those fingers learn how to keep to themselves, you can find inspiring quotes, advice, and more online. Writer’s Digest has cataloged 101 of the best websites for writers—check it out!
Tip #17: Discover YOUR Writing Process
Every writer has a unique approach to the prewriting and writing steps from tip #13. Some writers need an outline. Others only need a title. Some research first, while others research as they write. Contrary to the traditional approach, there is no right or wrong way to tackle the prewriting and writing processes.
You must find the process that allows you to be the most productive. Then, you need to stick with it, but don’t be afraid to modify it. Sometimes you’ll adjust your process overall or per project. The point is to establish a rudimentary approach that promotes focus. Then, like a mad scientist, tweak it as needed.
It’s almost important to plan for and be ready to tackle unexpected obstacles. For example, if you’re running short on time, how can you speed up your process without jeopardizing quality?
Tip #18: Enlist the Assistance of a “Wise Reader”
I first heard of the “wise reader” in Orson Scott Card’s book, How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy. Essentially, a wise reader is a trusted consort. They can read your work and give brutally honest feedback.
The Scribblers Cove puts it well by stating a wise reader doesn’t “so much tell you how to fix your writing, but rather give[s] you a blow by blow of what they felt when they read it, i.e. ‘This part dragged’ ‘I really don’t like this character’ ‘I don’t understand what happened here’ ‘This part was nice! Can you do more of that?’ You then need to figure out why they had the reaction they did and thus be able to retune your manuscript accordingly.”
A wise reader (sometimes called a beta reader) is an invaluable asset. They can help reset and maintain your focus. Orson Scott Card points out that you’ll likely need to train your wise reader. A close friend or spouse is an ideal candidate. Be sure to check out his book, even if you aren’t planning on writing sci-fi or fantasy. I find it to be a great way to reset my focus, which is why several of his “How To” books sit on the bookshelf above my desk.
Tip #19: Enter Contests
Freelance writing is a job, and like any other job it can become monotonous. The thrill of competition coupled with the promise of a reward can focus your mind. If you feel your focus slipping, take a step back from academic or career writing. Do something fun, like entering a contest.
Tip #20: Don’t be Afraid of Taking Risks
Risk taking is how you discover true potential and unearth abilities you didn’t even realize you had. Don’t be afraid of trying something new. You’ll never grow as a writer—freelance or otherwise—unless you push outside of the confinement of your created comfort zone.
Maintaining Your Writing Focus
Whether you’re a career copywriter, student or recreational writer, maintaining your focus requires dedication. You must find ways to redirect and regain it regularly.
Be sure to let us know which of these tips proves especially helpful to you. While you’re at it, share some of your own below.
Feature Image Credit: Anna Bizon via 123RF Stock Photo