Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Focus Check-List

When you are working on a large project it is really easy to lose focus. I know because I'm pretty guilty of that presently. When I started working on my novel I was doing it at my own pace. It was a steady pace and one I would be pleased with but then I took part in NaNoWriMo and completed 50,000 words in one month. It highlighted to me the fact that when I am focused I can be much more productive. I don't think I can work at that break-neck speed all the time but it did prove if I put all my effort in I really can achieve results.

Since completing NaNoWriMo the novel has progressed to 75,000 words but at present remains without a beginning or an end and these are very essential parts of a novel. Yesterday I had lunch with the lovely Penny Legg and chatting to her made me realise I am not focusing enough on my main work in progress.

I find it far too easy to get distracted by short stories for competitions and smaller projects. Whilst this is all very well for learning it doesn't make for finishing my novel. With the York Festival of Writing coming up I really do need to adjust my focus onto this.

So after some thought I decided to write this blog with a check-list of questions. These questions are the problem areas I identify with.

Are you spending too much time on unnecessary tasks?
In other words - Am I procrastinating? Every writer is guilty of this myself included. As an example, if I start working before I log onto twitter, I get a lot more done than with it on. This is something I need to keep a check on over the next couple of months to help improve my productivity.

Are any extra tasks appropriate?
I get distracted far too easily. It is not necessarily that I am distracted from writing but I will often have ideas that are nothing to do with the task in hand. Instead they may be ideas for short stories or non-fiction articles. On occasions it may be appropriate to complete these tasks ahead of my main objective but more often than not it is just another form of distraction. The same can be said for any other number of chores/tasks/ projects/social events* that we take on.

*delete as appropriate

Are you avoiding it because it's difficult?
I'm missing the beginning and the end - I think this says something about me. These for me will be the most difficult parts to get right so I have to ask am I avoiding them? Undoubtedly the answer is yes. I am at the stage where I need to get down to the nitty-gritty and that means a lot of hard work with some stressed out moments. This is partly my own fault for not plotting beforehand - something I've learnt for next time - but for now I have to untangle the web I have sewn to make sure it works. This question is important for me as I don't always realise I am partaking in avoidance.

Are you using your time effectively?
Phew! Something I am not guilty of. I do think that since starting this blog I have learnt to use my time effectively when it comes to writing. I work 25 hours a week so I have to fit my writing time around my work schedule. At first I found this difficult as I felt almost like I had to be in 'the zone' in order to be writing but pretty soon I discovered the zone doesn't really exist. You just have to get on with it. Nowadays I write for the half day I'm not at work, I read about writing on the bus, I blog and plan in the evenings and then take my book to bed with me. So all I need to do now is be more selective in what I am writing.

How much time do you need to complete the task?
This ties in with some of the other questions I have asked here. If you have started to use your time effectively it is helpful to have a goal in mind for when it will be finished.  It will make setting aside time a priority. I originally had mid-February in mind for completion of my first draft but I have slacked and this is unrealistic given that it's the 5th already! So I will now be aiming for the end of February and that means lots of work ahead.

This list of questions will help me to double-check that my focus hasn't shifted. You may identify with some of them or have your own ways of keeping focus. I'll let you know how I'm getting on - although does that count as a distraction?


  1. Great questions to ask and keep yourself on the straight and narrow, although cut yourself some slack, too. You use the word "guilty" a lot in this post, which isn't constructive and can just lead to stress.

    I've cut back on Twitter Time this year and now go on as a treat, once I've written something. It's working much better. I'd already cut back on a lot of unnecessary tasks (such as entering short story competitions) in order to concentrate on the novel last year and I want to keep that up this year, because it works.

    Good luck keeping to your checklist, it's a sound one!

  2. Hi Kath,

    You're right I do need to make sure I cut myself some slack as well!

    I don't have many vices so I think Twitter is one of mine and it has become a guilty pleasure. I think I'll go with your idea of regarding it as a treat.

    Thanks for stopping by, Kath!

    Catherine x

  3. Great post, Catherine!
    Those questions are definitely ones that most writers should ask themselves - and whilst reading yours I realised that I do procrastinate a lot and I let my addiction with Twitter/Facebook/Blogging/Emailing take over and that's probably why my novel isn't finished yet! LOL!

    Thanks for an interesting read - I will try to Tweet less - and write more!!

    (Well after catching up on some blogs, that is!)