Writing Advice of the Week: Set Goals to Stay Focused

Reading Time: 11 minutes
A frazzled turtle navigates a wintery forest. (Image by Fallon Clark via Adobe Firefly.)
(Image by Fallon Clark via Adobe Firefly.)

Does the stretch of time between Christmas and New Year’s Day also turn you into a tortoise? Tucked into yourself, neckless, withdrawn, while a room full of people talks (several notches) too loudly for your taste?

Just me, then?


Anyhoo . . .

This time of year, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and overloaded. For all the “most wonderful time” soundbites, it’s often the most stressful time of year for many. Whether it’s feeling like your gift-giving list is too long for your budget, the number of event invitations outpaces your energy, or something else, many of us find that our already precious chunks of writing time become even more condensed as our creativity takes a backseat to holiday parties and get-togethers.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas. And while this wasn’t always the case, the combined excitement from my partner and our young daughter has a way of lighting up my own holiday heart and gets me toe-tapping to holiday tunes while baking even after hearing Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree for the umpteenth time. But all the baking and toe-taps in the world can’t get my writing projects…well, written.

If you find yourself in a similar position — energetically sapped and slipping into Scrooge mode — check out How Writers Can Retain The Holiday Spirit by Daphne Gray-Grant for Publication Coach. Taking the time to plan for holiday to-dos around your writing project so you don’t feel the time-squeeze is key, and Daphne gives her decades-tested advice for work, money, communication, and listening to your body. And she smartly encourages you to cut yourself some slack in productivity after the holidays are over and it’s time to resume the regular day-to-day.

And while you’re managing all the holidays things and your projects, it can be difficult to maintain focus. While I’m more successful some days than others, focus is an artform. My daughter has a book called, “Mindful Monkey, Happy Panda,” and it’s become a sort-of household mantra to us that “when we are eating, we are just eating.” I try to apply this lesson to everything I do. But to be hyper focused requires that you know your goals and what steps are necessary to achieve them. So, if it’s focus you need, Katherine Hutchinson-Hayes for The Write Conversation suggests 7 Ways For Writers To Guard Our Focus. Get clear on your goals, purpose, desired outcomes, and engage with community to see you through your process. It’ll pay off in the end.

Now, if one of your goals is to learn a new skill, perhaps this is the time for you to tackle it. Learning new skills has a ripple of positive effects, and I’m of the mindset that we should all be learning every day. Though, as much as learning something new can be energizing, it can also lead to overwhelm if you have trouble choosing the right skill to learn right now. Lisa Norman for Writers In The Storm offers If I Could Learn One New Skill To Change My Life, an article full of potential skills to learn based on your unique needs and goals. Frankly, if these ideas were on a dart board, the dart would land on a valuable skill to stack regardless of where it landed.

And when you’re learning new skills, remember: Something Worth Doing is Worth Doing Badly — wise words from Doug Lewars for A Writer’s Path. Because I hate to break it to ya, but the first time you do most anything, you’re going to suck at it. It takes time and effort to properly synthesize what’s learned and apply it skillfully. Doug uses his own experiences in writing practice and other endeavors to pad the fact that it does take something more than practice to become truly a master, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from trying, even if it’s just to figure out which skills are not ideal for your skill stack. However, after putting in the time to learn and giving it a real go, you should be happy, at least, with your efforts and your progress.

Speaking of progress . . . how’s that book coming? I know, I know, but someone had to ask! I mean, learning all the skills in the world is cool, but if one of those isn’t the discipline needed to actually write and self-edit your work, it might be time to get back to basics. Self-Editing For Fiction And Memoir Writers by The Editors of Writer’s Digest is designed to do just that. The Editors point out what great writing is so much more than just pretty prose, and the live webinar will cover important considerations before you submit your book to an agent, editor, or publisher — even if you’re self-publishing. If you need a last-minute gift, and especially if that gift is for you (self-love is important, y’all), enroll in the webinar and make January your month to start crushing your goals.

If a paid webinar isn’t your speed or style, MyStoryDoctor came out with a few stellar articles this week, and among them were: Eliminating On The Nose Dialogue by Alex Bloom and How To Fix Flat, Two-Dimensional Characters by Ross Hartmann. Both articles offer insights into creating authentic characters, whether through their dialogue or through their arcs and interactions. And if you’re navigating a self-edit by the seat of your pants, having these tips in mind as you work through your manuscript may make the difference between carefully shaping your book into an immersive experience and hammering your book into a brick.

And if you’re onto the final pass of your self-edit before shipping off your manuscript to the next stop on its journey, Bryn Donovan asks Have You Tried Back To Front Editing In Writing? Bryn explains what exactly a back-to-front edit is, why it’s useful, and whether it may be beneficial for your work. While she does point out that editing in this manner is so much more time consuming than it is to read while editing, she also points out that that is one of the reasons why back-to-front editing actually works well. You’ll need a fair bit of patience for this editing style, and it may be best to try your hand at it on a short piece first, whether it’s flash fiction or a query letter.

Now, perhaps you’re finished with your book. Maybe you’re editing and looking ahead to the future. Maybe you’ve started to research agents and editors. If this sounds like you, you’re probably seeking representation. And many authors do! The traditional route to publication is often viewed as a cornerstone of a successful author’s trajectory. And while my thoughts on that may differ from yours, I can’t deny that — at least prior to the 21st century — getting an agent is a career milestone. Tom Vaughan for Bang2Write put together Your Ultimate Guide to Getting Representation as a Writer, and the article really is a full of useful information you should know going into conversations about representation. For example: When are you ready for representation? What do you bring to the proverbial table? How do you write a query letter? What about those professional introductions? And there’s loads more.

I hope by this point you’re feeling a little less like a neckless tortoise and more like the unique author you’re becoming, even if you don’t quite feel you’re there yet. If you liked this article and want to see more advice delivered to your inbox every week, subscribe below.

And as usual, there was a ton more advice shared this week than made it into the article, so peruse the links below.

Happy writing!

▼More Productivity Advice for the Week

▼More Craft Advice for the Week

▼More Business Advice for the Week

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Fallon Clark is the book pal who helps you tell your story in your words and voice using editorial, coaching, writing, and project management expertise for revision assistance, one-on-one guidance, and ghostwriting for development. Her writing has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine. Check out her website, FallonClark.com, or connect with her on LinkedIn or Substack.

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