Saturday, November 13, 2021

Top 3 Tips For Maintaining Creative Focus


The biggest obstacle to a writer’s success is their own inability to maintain focus on a current project usually by being distracted by all the copious ideas that flood into the creative’s mind at the most inappropriate time.

And that is a dangerous time of potential derailment, one that needs to be managed and controlled. 

But how does the creative writer manage that, without losing all those wondrous new ideas in the process?

Here are my best top 3 tips that will help you maintain your creative focus, another piece of writing I did during my second year Creative Writing degree.

#1: MANAGE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS

It can be all to easy to lose yourself in the grand, romantic dreams of being a writer, basking in overnight success and the onrush of fame and fortune that being published or produced brings. Or at least, that’s what the movies would have us believe. The best way to avoid disappointment is to be realistic about this creative career you have chosen.

KNOW WHAT YOU WANT YOUR CAREER TO BE

I originally wanted to write film scripts and wrote a couple before an idea for a novel took over. I then started writing the novel, only to have a producer request a meeting about a horror script I had written. I was back to writing scripts.

This went on for about ten years. If I had stuck with one or the other instead of flopping back and forth between novels and scripts, I would have made better progress – I certainly would have improved my writing by focusing on one form consistently.

Decide what you want to write: online articles, non-fiction books; film, theatre or radio scripts, or even novels. I'm definitely in the novel writing camp, with a current focus on crime fiction. I'll talk about my reasons for focusing on the crime genre in a different post - I was certainly surprised when I found myself writing in this genre, moving away from my usual staple, horror. With a long series in mind, along with some stand alone books, I have plenty of ideas to keep me busy for many years to come.

By making that decision early, you can put all your energy and focus into improving that skill, and by so doing, will reap the rewards.

EXPECT, ACCEPT and UNDERSTAND THIS TAKES TIME

I thought I would churn out a book, a publisher would buy it and my fortune would be made, all within a year, two at the tops. After making the decision to focus on writing prose, my stories improved, and opportunities started to present themselves. I wrote background and product text for a local tabletop games company; another hired me to develop their game world, and I wrote my first ever published novel, a tie-in for another company’s fantasy game.

It would be another ten years before a publishing company offered me a three-book deal for the first in a series of crime fiction novels. That unfortunately became a nightmare, and the following publishing deal, while better, ended up worse; but that is another story entirely. 

By managing your expectations of what being a creative writer means, you will avoid falling into the disillusioned trap that saps your creative energy and makes you lose focus.

 #2: MAKE A PLAN AND STICK TO IT

I was definitely all over the place when it came to my writing when I first started out. In form I was writing screenplays, novels and short stories. In content I was writing character pieces, non-fiction and fiction, and my genre of choice depended on what day it was or what movie I’d just seen or book I’d just read. Fantasy and horror were my staple, but I tried writing westerns, sci-fi and even a Mills & Boon romance called Blackjack.

I was all over the place with hundreds of ideas of what I wanted to write, but no plan.

UNLESS IT IS WRITTEN DOWN, IT IS AN IDEA, NOT A PLAN

We can all have an idea of what sort of career we’d like to have, or what project we’d like to work on next, but until it is tangible it is but an idea, as fleeting as the rest. The best way to see your ideas to completion and your portfolio of consistent, quality work grow is to have a plan – and this means write it down.

WHAT SHOULD YOUR PLAN INCLUDE?

My original plan for the Louise Miller series of crime novels was very simple: a list of potential titles under which was a three-sentence premise of the book. I am most definitely in the pantster camp when it comes to outlining my work: I start with the story idea and one or two notes and develop the story as I write.

Your plan should include all that YOU need to get started, but at the minimum a rough premise of the story/article, including a beginning, middle and end so that you have a goal to aim for.

By having a written plan, you can keep referring back to it when you feel your resolve start to wane, thus keeping you on track to finish your project.

I am now looking for an agent, giving myself a deadline in 2022 to get one and/or a new publishing deal, and if I haven't then I will explore the route of the indie author.

#3: CREATE A CONSISTENT BODY OF WORK

With your expectations managed and a plan to follow, you can now start to create a consistent body of work, adding to your portfolio of stories, articles, novels, screenplays; whatever your choice of writing is. This will give you a huge boost of self-confidence and take a little of the sting out when you get rejected. I now have two novels completed, both part of a larger (planned) series. I have numerous ideas for standalone novels across crime, horror and literary genres. I've a manuscript of short stories that I'm adding to, building up a collection, practicing different styles and topics.

EXPECT, AND ACCEPT, YOU WILL BE REJECTED.

Your work will be rejected, a lot. You will wait weeks and months for a response and, more often than not, no response will come. And when it does it can be disheartening and cut to the bone, but that is the nature of the creative business.

I print mine out and stick them on a spike on my desk and send out another submission. Over time, thanks to these top three tips, the sting grows weaker. 

This is my latest spike - lots of rejections coming in from agents and a couple of publishers, but also lots of encouragement. Many of them ask to see other work in the future - there's incentive to write one of the standalone. Also, it is very, VERY, satisfying to ram the spike through the latest rejection note. Just saying.

RINSE AND REPEAT

If you’ve practiced #1: MANAGE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS you’re resigned to the deluge of rejections heading your way. You’ve followed #2: MAKE A PLAN AND STICK TO IT and know what’s next to submit and work on, and because you followed #3: CREATE A CONSISTEN BODY OF WORK you know exactly what those projects are.

There is no golden guarantee of your work ever being published, but by doing these top three tips repeatedly, you will develop a powerful writing habit and maintain your creative focus and mindset.

At least, that's the plan . . . 

Cheers - JP

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