Last night, I received this message from a sweet, creative girl I know:
“Hey so serious question: How on earth do you manage to stay focused and enthusiastic and motivated about the same book until it’s done? I struggle so much with this and clearly you have some kind of a system.”
As I am wont to do, I decided to turn the answer into a blog post. (I jokingly told her that most of my blog posts these days are just answering questions.) The truth is that ‘systems,’ in the real sense of the word, are something I do not have. But everyone has something that works for them, a personal ‘system’ that might appear like horrific disorganization to anyone who does not live with that person’s brain.
Staying enthusiastic and motivated, I have learned, is a habit. It needs to become a habit if you aren’t in that habit already. It’s too easy to allow what should be discipline instead ride on the fickle waves of how we feel in any particular moment. If your writing depends on how you feel, then you have an issue to overcome. This isn’t to say you need to write every day in the same thing whether you feel like it or not. Some days are too busy, some days are too stressful or simply not conducive to writing, but you should do it as often as you possibly can.
Pick one project or two (but I don’t recommend more than two). The whole point of focus is to focus, to keep your eye on one goal. Two is sometimes fine (when I write a darker novel I used to write a Paper novel on the side to keep me balanced) but when possible, you want to have a single goal.
Here are ways I focus –
- I’m more strict about what ‘entertainment’ I intake. When I’m at my most focused, I probably won’t want to watch anything. In her 1934 book, Becoming a Writer (I highly recommend this book, by the way, if you can find it), Dorothea Brande says, “…Books, the theater, and talking pictures should be very rarely indulged in when you have any piece of writing to finish. The better the book or play is the more likely it is, not only to distract you, but actually to alter your mood, so that you return to your own writing with your attitude changed.”
- I create a playlist tailored to the mood, feel, and characters of my current novel. This is important for me – music sets my mood and keeps me in a particular mindset. Never underestimate the power of a good playlist when writing a novel.
- I restrain myself. When the words aren’t coming and I feel about as inspired as a doorknob, I pull away and I don’t allow myself to write for a day, or two days, or (in extreme cases) a week. The end result is that I am inevitably champing at the bit to write again – I have ideas and things that need said and ideas pouring out of my brain. When we aren’t allowed to do something, we want to do it more than ever – it’s human nature, and should be utilized.
- I brainstorm. Brainstorming is becoming a lost art, but I’ve never found a more useful tool. Grab a friend or family member who knows what you’re all about and just start talking. Once you pull that thread, what unravels might surprise you. This is actually how I bonded with my two closest friends Arielle and Lauren. They’re still my go-to gals – when I’m stuck , listless, and uninspired, they shake my muse awake. They make me laugh, they give me ideas. They’re irreplaceable.
- I reward myself. If I write a full chapter, I might watch a drama episode or spend some time on Tumblr or Pinterest. All work and no play, etc. In order to not fall into Dorothea Brande’s ‘attitude change,’ I usually keep whatever drama I’m watching or book I’m reading in the same genre as what I’m writing. This is sometimes difficult, as I tend to write in difficult and sometimes nonexistent genres, but it can be done by picking one element. For example, I’m currently writing a futuristic samurai Robin Hood retelling. Main elements to choose from would be Robin Hood, science fiction, Japanese history, cyberpunk, bromance, or action-adventure.
- I go back to the roots of the novel. What made me want to write it in the first place? Was it a song, or a phrase, or a person? Was it all three? Think about whatever elements inspired you in the beginning.
- I date my characters. I spend time with them. I ask them questions and listen attentively to answers. I listen to a song and realize they hate it, or they love it, or it makes them sad, or it suits them perfectly. I place them in various situations and watch how they react or interact with others. Getting a fresh feel for them usually helps re-inspire me.