Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Art of Staying Focused

When you finally (or for some of our amazing Luckies, immediately) achieve your dream of selling a novel, you are insanely excited. There is suddenly so much you don't know about the publishing process, and so much that you want to know. You feel nervous asking your editor fifty-seven million questions, and if you're working with an agent who just recently signed you, you don't want to annoy him/her either. Much.

So what do you do? You think "ah ha! I'll work on the next book!"

Or, well, more likely... you sign up for a Twitter account, you get on Facebooks, you start exploring GoodReads, you stumble across Tumblr, you start thinking about websites... or about redoing your website, and you pretty much do whatever you can to avoid working on the next book. Because writing is not always easy. And if your next book is supposed to be a sequel, then it's natural to convince yourself that you can't get started on book TWO until all of the edits on book ONE are returned to you.

But it doesn't stop there. Six months out from publication date, you are grappling with copy edits and ARCs and cover reveals and it's very easy not to work on either your second book OR that new WIP that you really want to finish because you want to be a full-time writer. Three months out from publication date and you're starting to sweat blurbs and reviews and set up blog tours and take care of promotional ideas and... well, focus gets to be a challenge.

So how can you keep your focus, when all the world is clamoring for your attention? Whether you're a writer, an artist, an entrepreneur or a busy anyone, these are my 3 favorite tips:

1. Do the important stuff first. 

By important, I don't mean, necessarily, urgent. And I understand "urgency", especially if you have a day job or clients who will not wait. But even if you have a looming deadline, take ten minutes to do whatever is most important to you -- in many cases, that means working on your creative project. Start your day doing the work for which you want to be known. If you are an author... then write. A painter... then paint. Even if it's just a snippet, it will help set the tone for the whole day.

2. Make it a game.

We all respond to different cues, but each of us have that 'thing' that makes work more like a game. For me, it's tracking. I like to see a spreadsheet where I record my word count for the day--day after day, k after k. It keeps me motivated AND it keeps me on track. I feel guilty when I don't hit my word count, and I work to catch up.

For others, setting timers adds that element of "gametime". Or doing sprints with friends. Or blogging about your results. Or doing a vision board -- whatever it is that makes hard work seem like fun (even if only a little bit), I urge you to do. It will help make sitting down to do the work that much easier.

3. Make sure your dream is powerful enough - to YOU.

Let's face it--we have many distractions in a day. We may be spouses or parents or star performers at work, we may have volunteer or sporting or career commitments that take up our every spare moment. In order for you to really ensure you stay focused, you have to want to achieve your dream badly enough to be able to say no. Even if it's only for twenty minutes at a time. Even if it's in the wee dark hours of the morning. But you have to say "no" to those other things (I'm looking at you, social media) in order to say "yes" to your dream... so your dream better be worth it.

And it better be YOUR dream. Not your mom's, not your fifth grade teacher's. Yours. Because you're the one who has to do the work, you're the one who has to make the decisions about your career, and you're the one who will look back at the end and say "Yes. I did that."

Here's wishing you the moment when you say those words, and you are so overwhelmed with joy that all you can do is smile.

What about you? What are your tips for staying focused??

Jennifer McGowan has been writing fiction since well before she knew any better. A past Romance Writers of America Golden Heart winner and 2011 Golden Heart finalist, Jenn is represented by agent extraordinaire Alexandra Machinist, of Janklow & Nesbit.

Jenn's debut novel, MAID OF SECRETS, will be published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on May 7, 2013. You can find Jenn online and on twitter.


  1. So Insane! This post is exactly what I needed to read because I'm soooo at that place right now. I'm waiting on edits for my debut novel and waiting some more, but I've got a WIP that's nagging me for attention. Yesterday and today, I got in a little over 1k on each day, so I feel good about the progress I made. Now, I just have to make myself do it everyday. I love to write, love it almost as much as life, so why do I get all anxious and out of whack, putting it off, when really, writing is all I want to do. Then if I don't write, I'm a grouchy hag. It's crazy! Thanks so much for this post. It's good to know I'm not the only one who feels this way. :)

  2. Focus - such a simple sounding thing yet so stinkin' hard to accomplish! Thanks for reminding me how important is is, Jenn.

  3. Thank you both for stopping by!! And I am so with you on being grouchy if you don't put effort toward the thing you most love. Even if it's just a little push, it matters so much.

    May you keep your focus strong!