It’s a question I’ve dealt with this month as I’ve led two October writing challenges and am thinking about goals for 2014. I started out the month great, but I lost focus somewhere. I set out to discover why.
My calendar was so full of very good things, but I was frequently exhausted and vaguely dissatisfied. (Well, not vaguely actually. It was a very pointed dissatisfaction with the amount of writing I finished on any given day.) What was the reason?
My children were grown and on their own. I had long ago given up time wasters (TV viewing, hanging on the telephone) and most hobbies (quilting, gardening), and yet…the struggle to write for quality periods of time persisted.
A Busy Blur
I realized that I had fallen into the all-too-common trap of substituting being busy for being focused. Could this be you as well? If it is, you’ll need to deal with it–or this year’s goals will go by the wayside too.
Answer the following questions to check your focus:
- Do you know where you’re going?
- If you stay on the road you’re on, where is it leading?
- Are you busy qualifying yourself for a writing life you don’t want?
Pull Back for Better Focus
You may need to get an overview of how you spend your time before you can answer those questions. It can be an eye-opening exercise to keep track of your activities, hour by hour, for a week or two. (A month is even better.) For example, you might truly believe that you spend two hours writing every day, plus one hour marketing, and a fourth hour studying.
After keeping track, you might find you actually write twenty minutes while frequently stopping to check email. Your marketing hour might actually be spent reading about marketing methods, but not truly ever doing any marketing of your own projects. Your hour of studying the magazine article on character development might actually boil down to twenty minutes of study and forty minutes of reading ads and letters to the editor.
My biggest downfall, I discovered, was my “automatic yes.” I said yes without stopping to think about my decision. In an effort to clean out my email Inbox, I said an automatic yes to all kinds of volunteer things I didn’t have time for really. I said an automatic yes to social functions with friends and requests to babysit grandkids. I did the insanely ridiculous thing of saying an automatic yes without looking at my calendar. So frequently lately I’ve had three appointments or social things in one day, and I was burned out the next day too.
Training for What?
Suppose you dream of writing novels. Your time tracker might reveal that your writing time is eaten up by writing free newsletters for two organizations you belong to. Or, if you’re well published, you can’t say no when asked to write an endorsement or review of someone’s new book. (That may not sound like much, but those of you who write reviews know that reading the book takes several hours, and a well crafted review takes another hour at least.) Maybe you haven’t had time to work on your own novel for three days because you’ve been critiquing for other writers in your group or writing guest blogs.
All these things make you feel like you’re furthering your writing career as a novelist–but are you? Or are you busy qualifying yourself for something other than your dream? You’re actually gaining experience as a reviewer, a critiquer, a blogger, and a newsletter writer. (Those are fine jobs, if that’s truly what you want to be doing in the long run.) But if you stay on this road–if you continue to spend a large chunk of your writing time this way–do you like where it will inevitably lead you?
Fuzzy or Focused Goals?
Know what your dreams and goals are. We all have our own criteria for choosing goals–and different methods to determine what we’re supposed to do with our writing gifts. (Prayer and journaling work best to clarify things for me.)
Once you’ve decided, don’t be vague about how you intend to get where you want to go. You must live on a higher plane–above the constant demands for your time–and say “no” to things that don’t further those goals. If you have difficulty saying “no” and think it is selfish, I recommend my Boundaries for Writers e-book where I deal with this.
What might you change (get rid of OR add) in your writing life to better qualify you for the writing life of your dreams? Name one thing in a comment below!