In which we’re blogging about process for a reader with a question

A few months ago, I received an email from a writer named Tim with some questions about process. I thought the answers might make an interesting blog entry, so here we go:

My name is Tim and I am a wanna-be writer. I am writing to you because I thought you might be able to help me. I am hoping you can answer my questions, because I have no idea what in the world I am doing. I am really wanting to start on another story since I have a lot of ideas wrote down for stories but every time I start to write one story, I get bored with it, so I put that away and start on another and so fourth as a cycle starts and I can’t seem to break the habit. Any suggestions?  Here goes:

 

Q1: How do you maintain your concentration when you are either writing a book or fix ‘in to start another one?

 

Q2: When do writers (such as yourself) start on another “project” after it goes to editing? I have already submitted my very first-story to an editor.

 

I’m going to answer the second question first since it’s the easiest. I start a new project immediately—in fact, I am already noodling away at it before the previous project goes to the publisher. I may take a day or two to clear my head, but when something is sent off, I put it out of my mind and move on to the next. Publishing requires a fair bit of back and forth, so I will switch gears again when the first project comes back for revisions, but with a little luck and some careful planning, I usually work on one project at a time. For instance, a few weeks ago I received the revision notes from my editor for next fall’s novel. I also had a novella to write and a novella proposal to create. I triaged the projects according to deadlines. The finished novella needed to go in first, so I put the other things aside and wrote that. As soon as it was sent in, I revised the novel; when the revisions were sent, I wrote the novella proposal. I have writer pals who are superb at juggling and can work on multiple projects in a single day, but I prefer to focus on one thing at a time. That helps me keep my concentration where it needs to be which leads us neatly into question one…

I maintain concentration by limiting myself to working on whatever project I have in front of me. If I get a great idea for something else, I jot it down, throw it in a folder, and don’t pursue it. Not pursuing it at that moment is the key. If I left myself start to research or plot that new idea, I will fall down the rabbit hole and never come back. The new idea is always the most alluring—it’s shiny and enticing and you haven’t had time to get tired of it. That means it will always be the thing that’s trying to lure you away from what you ought to be doing. By making note of it, I won’t forget, but since I don’t immerse myself in it, I’m also not in danger of losing track of what I ought to be doing. It really comes down to discipline. The hardest thing to do when you don’t have a deadline or a contract is to keep yourself focused on one project and see it through all the way to the end. There’s no one holding your feet to the fire and making you finish, so it’s very easy to skip off after the newest, shiniest idea. But anyone can have an idea and make a start. It’s FINISHING that’s crucial. Good luck!


5 thoughts on “In which we’re blogging about process for a reader with a question”

  1. Debbie Kemp says:

    Good advice!

  2. Jaye says:

    Your blog entry is very helpful, but your last line is genius. I think you have alluded to it in other blog posts about writing and questions you get from aspiring writers. You have summed it up very well. Thank you!

  3. Nancy C. says:

    So what about the boredom? ARE you ever bored? DO you ever get sick of it (that particular story/setting/scene/character)? Are there days when you say, “I am so over you”? What then? I guess for those with contracts, obligation could be a large enough motivator.

    But you have a handful of finished(?) manuscripts in your stuffy old attic from days where there was no contract poking you in the ribs. How’d you complete them? I suppose the required writing for your degrees got you into the discipline; but I daresay no assignment was novel-length, right? Or are you just good with tasks that, at times, seem endless?

  4. Great questions, Nancy! It’s not so much a matter of boredom, but there are definitely times when it feels like “OH MY GOD WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE I’M READY TO BE DONE WITH YOU AND MOVE ON ALREADY.” And you’re absolutely right–it’s the deadlines that motivate because I’m a professional and that means I gave my word I’d have my work finished on time. The manuscripts hanging in my attic are indeed finished–at least as finished as they can be without professional editing, WHICH THEY NEED. I didn’t learn to follow through with anything that length in college. My longest paper for a university assignment was 50 pages. (It was on the armored cavalry tactics of General George S. Patton in WWII. Yeah. Really.) I took a loooooong time to write most of those books because I had a tiny child at home and no deadlines, but I was determined to finish them because I knew I could. I wrote my first novel when I was 23–125,000 words in seven weeks. That was MURDEROUS, and I never wanted to write that fast again, but I had it stuck in my head that if I wanted an agent or editor to take me seriously, I needed to show I took myself seriously, and that meant finishing what I started. (I do have two novels that were false starts–poor concepts that never made it past page 50 because they were just badly thought out. I got superstitious about hitting page 50 because I knew if it was going well, I’d finish.)

  5. Lynne says:

    Deanna, you spoke to a problem all artists have as well – sticking to the current project – and a semblance of a schedule – without being distracted by something new. You sound like a woman with excellent self-discipline…something I still can’t grasp completely. I loved your answers and explanations….particulaarly calling new ideas “shiney and enticing.” I know that feeling with fibers – new colors and textures – so easy to go off in several directions. This was a great post – even though I don’t write I could relate. Thanks!!

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