Enemies of the Art Part 7–Failure to Focus
There is one failing that will undermine all our efforts, the inability to focus. Years ago, I was on the debate team. I loved debate and spent hours researching, building cases, writing cases, and learning all I could to be prepared.
Most of my nights were spent researching thick dusty law books in the downtown library. Yet, though this information and preparation helped, there was one tactic that worked every time, a mantra I lived by in competition. This move could take out the best cases from the best teams from the best schools.
If you cannot defeat them, distract them.
If I could redirect my opponent into focusing on non-issues and intellectual bunny-trails, then all I had left was to mop up in my final argument. Sounds pretty ruthless, but how did I learn this? By falling victim to it, myself ;).
Distraction Equals Death
All of us, when we decide to become professional authors, must pass through an apprenticeship phase. This is when we are reading fiction, dissecting craft books, attending conferences, writing, and building our skills. One skill that separates the amateur from the professional is the ability to focus.
Others will try to redirect us down fruitless bunny-trails. They will tell you writing isn’t a real job. They will tempt you with settling for day jobs with steady paychecks and 401Ks. Day jobs are great and so are 401Ks, but they must not be the goal, they must support the goal of being a professional author.
The Importance of Goals
Goals give us a place to focus. They also offer critical information about how to change our approach. My husband is on a military shooting team, and frequently we practice together. Whenever we have a new scope, we have to “sight-in” the rifle.
To do this, we set up paper targets. Fire a couple rounds, see where it hits. Is it high? Low? To the left? The right? By seeing where we are NOT hitting, we can then use that information to adjust.
This past weekend, my husband set up small metal targets so I could practice with the pistol (and I haven’t shot in months). I couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn when normally I am very accurate. At first, I didn’t understand what was going wrong. Then I realized that I always warm up using a paper target.
Though I can see without glasses, I have just enough of a stigmatism that what I “see” isn’t quite true. When I shoot a paper target, I can adjust right or left, high or low. I have enough information to know how my vision is deceiving me.
Yet, with the tiny metal target, I couldn’t see where I was hitting (or, rather not hitting), so it was just a lot of wasted ammo. I was extremely frustrated because I didn’t have enough information to do any better than I was doing (which wasn’t well at all).
Goals help us be able to see where we are hitting, but more importantly, where we are not hitting. We can glean vital information that can get us back on target.
Goals Must Be Specific, Actionable, Accountable and Have Deadlines
Years ago, I took Bob Mayer’s Warrior Writers seminar (the class inspired the name of this blog). Bob, being a former Green Beret is all about goals. He asked us to write down our big writing goal. Being the classic overachiever, I wrote.
I will be a New York Times Best-Selling Author.
Sounds good, right? Um, best-selling author in what? Origami cookbooks? See how broad this target is? There is no focus. No genre. No place. Was I content to “make the list” or did I want to be in the top 20? Top 10? Or even number 1? A goal like that was better than no goal, but…eh, not much. How long did I have to accomplish this? Five years? TWENTY?
Write your big goal, then write as many subgoals as you can, each a step toward that main goal. Put your goals where you can see them. Give them deadlines, then share them with friends who will keep you accountable.
Learn to Ignore the Ants
Ants are all around us. They look like laundry in need of folding, kids who need entertaining, dishes that need to be put away.
Ants always bring friends.
When shooting long-range you have to lie on your belly in the dirt, rock and grass. This is a sign to every fire ant in Texas to build a condo in your boots, but you have to learn to ignore it. Keep looking at the target.
Ignore the bee that is suddenly in love with your hat.
When I first started writing, I believed I needed a quiet, private office with just the right light and the perfect computer to be a productive writer. Now? Life has trained me to be stronger than that. Learn to write with the toddler on your head and the cat who wants to nest on your keyboard.
Focus, keep pressing.
View those kids that interrupt you ever three minutes as training. Life will rarely hand us the perfect conditions for premium productivity, so train yourself to work in less-than-ideal situations.
The writer who can focus no matter what else is going on around him is the writer who will succeed long-term. There will always be pets, kids, family, friends, bills, deaths, illness, and drama. We need to learn to work no matter what.
A great way to focus? Get the best information and the most effective methods from experts. Yeah, yeah shameless plug but you have no clue how many experts I had to stalk to make this conference happen. Help me make it worth the restraining orders :D.
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What are your thoughts? Do you find it hard to focus? Do you feel guilty for writing? Do you have methods you use to help you keep your eyes on the prize? Please share!
I LOVE hearing from you…
To prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.
I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.
At the end of February I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!
I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books.