Maintaining Focus on Long-Term Goals

Writing a novel takes a long time. Although NaNoWriMo has proven to me – and many others – that 30 days is more than enough time to write 50,000 words, this is only the very beginning of the journey on the road to a finished novel.

For one thing, most novels are at least 70,000 words.

For another thing, this first rush of writing only produces the first draft. Sometimes the first draft is shitty, and sometimes it is very shitty – plot holes, meandering story lines, amorphous settings, flat characters, and stilted prose – the list can go on and on.

To reach the finish line – the final polished novel that is almost perfect and ready to send out to find a home – can take years. I say almost perfect because, as we perfectionist writers know, our novels will never be perfect, there will always be something else we can do to make it better.

How does one maintain the sustained focus that is necessary to not only finish the novel, but to make it as close to perfect as it can be so it is ready to send out into the big, wide, world?

How does one maintain the focus on sending out the query letters, partials, and fulls into the big, wide, world, when it seems like they are just vanishing into the ether or bouncing off walls?

I have always had a love/hate relationship with focus. When I am in the flow, focus seems effortless. I can write for hours without even thinking about taking a break, and I have to set an alarm so I can remember to eat! I can work on my novel every day for weeks on end, go to bed thinking about it, dream about it, and wake up with fixes to plot holes and new scenes swirling inside my head.

Those days and weeks and months are magical – but they don’t last. It can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint how or when the focus is lost because sometimes it vanishes without a known reason, and sometimes it degrades so gradually that I don’t realize it’s going until it’s gone. Then my first tendency was to analyze what went wrong, try and fix it, and desperately try to regain the focus.

I’m changing my approach to focus.  Firstly, I have recognized that a high level of focus is not sustainable over extended periods of time, no matter how desirable it is.   Secondly, I have realized that it is not necessary to struggle to main consistent focus on these long-term goals.

I have come to believe that the key is recognizing when the focus is slipping, and having a variety of tools to use to regain the focus. Finding what works is trial and error every single time because what worked last time might not work this time.

I’ve included some well-known favorites, and some lesser-known methods I haven’t tried yet:

Accountability

Join a critique group – one that mandates a set amount of work to be submitted every meeting, has a regular but not too restrictive schedule. The aim is to maintain accountability to someone else for writing, but not to get into a situation where producing writing for the group becomes a chore.

Publicizing

Tell all your friends and family that you are writing and plan to be published (or whatever your long-term writing goal is). Encouragement may come from very unexpected sources when you least expect it – even an out of the blue phone call during the holidays can have a distant relative asking ‘when can I read your book’? The key here is not to make a huge big deal about it, because it’s your goal and not theirs. Oh, and take all negativity with a pinch of salt – and then throw both over your shoulder.

Alignment

Align your long-term goals with your values and your dreams – there is a lot of emphasis on setting SMART goals, breaking goals down into manageable steps, and tracking your goals – but if these goals don’t make you excited every time you think about them, then what use is all that planning and preparation? I hadn’t heard this one before, but it makes perfect sense because you need both passion and purpose to realize long-term goals.

Reminders

Write your goal down or make a visual of it – and keep it visible – in your wallet, purse, next to your computer, on your fridge, etc. I read an article a while back that suggested making a mock-up of your book cover – I haven’t tried this one yet, but I think I’m going to put it on my To Do list for this week.   Now that eBooks are becoming more popular, there is a very good chance that the cover you design will end up on your book – so go for it.

Visualization

Envision your goals already achieved – have you imagined your name on the NYT Bestseller List? Have you decided what you’ll say when Oprah interviews you? What you’ll wear when you give talks to your readers on your next mega book tour? Who will you choose to star in the movie that is made from your book?  Okay, why not? Visualization, affirmations, and positive thinking work. Dreaming empowers us to reach further than we think is possible in the cold light of day. When we allow ourselves to believe that what we want to accomplish is possible, we will find the mental, emotional, and physical energy to continue.

What methods do you use, or what resources have you found, to maintain or regain your focus on your long-term writing goals?

Here are some additional resources that you may find useful:

Brinkman, T. (2012). Top ten ways to stay focused on your goals and objectives. Retrieved from http://www.goalsontrack.com/blog/2012/11/02/top-ten-ways-to-stay-focused-on-your-goals-and-objectives/

How to develop long term focus: Staying motivated to achieve distant goals. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/long-term-focus.htm

Caballo, F. (2014). 10 Apps to help you stay focused on your writing. Retrieved from http://janefriedman.com/2014/02/26/10-apps-help-stay-focused-writing/

Finnerty, C. (n.d.). Staying focused and getting that book finished: Caroline Finnerty. Retrieved from http://www.writing.ie/resources/staying-focused-and-getting-that-book-finished-caroline-finnerty/

Clear, J. (n.d.). How to stay focused when you get bored working towards your goals. Retrieved from http://jamesclear.com/stay-focused

Whichard, N. (n.d.). For successful long-term writing, get grit. Retrieved from http://successfulwritingtips.com/tag/stay-focused-on-goal/

5 thoughts on “Maintaining Focus on Long-Term Goals

  1. Great post, Linda, and so helpful to me right now. I’m in NaNO mode, beginning today and continuing to the end of June. Looking at 1000 words per day, which, as we all know, is not hard, but they do need to be GOOD words, and that is tougher and requires focus. So, your post could not have been more timely for me. Thanks, Linda!

    Britt

    • I’m glad it was helpful. Good luck with your NaNo, do you have do this interim NaNo solo or are there other writers doing it as well?

      • Actually, Linda, I’m writing to this schedule so I have something worth pitching (i.e. more or less finished) at Thrillerfest in July. That gives me a deadline, which has always been my best motivator. Find I’m toeing the line pretty well, too, usually coming in between 1200 and 1600 words per day. This is great as I can cut myself some slack when my schedule goes kablewy and I can’t write. Not blaming myself on those days and just moving on the next has been an invaluable self-lesson.

        Britt

  2. Very good post. I signed up for NaNoWriMo but then got buried with work – but I really appreciated the 4 principals and the resources.

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