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November 20th, 2004, 05:14 PM
So here's a question. And I know this idea has popped up before from time to time, so forgive me for maybe re-hashing something that's been asked before.

How do you stay focussed on a project?

Here's the thing. Browsing through my hard drive, I have well over a hundred good starts to a novel. Combing them all I'm sure there's more than enough wordage there to have at least a dozen complete, good novels. But the problem is I just can't FINISH anything.

Case in point. I'm taking part in National Novel Writing Month right now - tryign to write a 50 000 word novel inside of one month. Now the story is okay. But I know that as soon as I cross that 50k mark, the story will fizzle out. I'll lose motivation. And I'll want to work on something else. I know other people have issues like this.

So what do you do to get to that final oasis... THE END?

November 20th, 2004, 06:16 PM
Hey Choppy.

Don't worry - I'm the same. I'll spend weeks/months thinking of an idea for a novel, then I'll write the first 6 or 7 chapters...only to suddenly lose interest/motivation for the story. I always think of a different story that would be more fun/appropriate/easy/satisfying to write, and I'd then start on new said project, reasoning that I'd "come back to the original story later".

Mmm. Not good.

Staying focused is hard. But you just have to try and reinforce the point to yourself - the point that if you don't stay focused on one thing, you'll never be a writer. Ever.

If that isn't motivational enough, then I don't know what is.

November 21st, 2004, 12:16 AM
Don't focus on one project at a time.

If you have 2 (or three or four) work on the one that sparks the most interest at that moment. If none do, edit. Go back and read what you write. If nothing strikes you as interesting, it's very likely you do need to trash said project and start over.

Myself (and I'll say this until I'm blue in the face) have spent the past year writing short stories. I've written close to 300,000 words this year. I started two separate novels and got several chapters in and stopped because I wanted to refous myself on short stories.

I'm now back into one of those novels and I think I'll be able to stick it out until the end. The trick is to be able to pick up where you left off. Short stories can be done in one sitting if you're determined enough. The follow through is one of the hardest things to do in writing. It's so easy to put a project aside and say "I'll get back to that later". Well, with about 20 unfinished short stories and 70 finished, later never gets here. You finish the story in your head and writing it isn't fun any more.

Try doing shorts for a while and see how you feel with the success of completing a short story. Now try it for a year. Trust me, you'll feel great. Oh, when you finish a short story, send it out to get published. There's only one bigger high than finishing a short story, getting it published. I'm still waiting for that high of getting a book published. I've written three and it's an awesome high to complete a book, but I want to experience that high of getting picked up by a publisher.

I also have a tendency to ramble my thoughts here a lot. :) That seems to spark the writing bug in me to jump back onto one of my projects. Hmmm... I sense some jumpage coming up. Weeee...


November 21st, 2004, 06:44 PM
The short answer is, I don't. I have one finished small project in one field, thirty pages of draft for one type of novel, about 100 pages of draft for another, various frequently rewritten chapters and bits for a novel that stalled and is temporarily on the shelf, various starts of novel ideas from ancient times, newer ideas for many more different types of stories and for which I occasionally have some research notes, one short story that needs to have the ending rewritten, one short story that needs to be revised mostly for language and then sent out, fragments for other short stories I want to do. In other words, my focus is massively split, the result of many years of thinking about stories I wanted to write without managing to find much time to actually write them. (Or perhaps I should say time and energy, as it is intermeshed.) Given that the time thing is still my bugaboo issue, having multiple projects may satisfy my brain, but is bad for making progress.

But the long answer is I accept that I'm going to hit rough patches where I suddenly and temporarily lose interest in what I'm writing. Writing is not fun. Okay, some people seem to have fun with it, but I'm deeply suspicious of them. It requires a lot of concentration and a lot of areas of your brain working in concert. No wonder your brain wants to go play with something else or go watch some mindless television. No wonder it starts to doubt that there's anything there there and try to talk you out of it. When I get to a point where I'm avoiding a project, where I'm stuck, I'll try a number of things -- since I have several projects, I'll go work on another one of them, I'll try out a new idea for a little bit, I'll try to write some of the ending or further along spot in the novel I've planned to go around the spot where I'm stuck (which works only if you've actually planned out that story.) I'll look at what about the idea attracted me in the first place and try to figure out if the reason I lost enthusiasm for it is that I got off track from what I wanted to do. I'll indulge my editor hat and write and rewrite and rewrite the same bit over and over till I'm ready to scream. (I know that this sounds like a bad idea, but it's actually helped me out because it seems to increase my eagerness to move on to the next part of the story.) And I've been told that writing "the cat sat on the mat" over and over again when you can't think of anything else or other writing exercises may get the juices flowing. Tim Powers makes deals with himself -- if he writes a scene, he can have a beer, and so on. I have found that reading others' work in the field may actually inspire me, not to steal their ideas but to get back to my own. (However, for many folk, reading while writing can have the opposite effect.)

I don't think you can say, don't take up a new idea, because it does sometimes happen that the old idea is a no-goer and the new idea will sail off happily. The project where I have 100 pages came about when I was stuck on other projects and the idea kept nagging at me. I didn't have time for it, didn't want to split my focus, plus I didn't actually have a story idea, just a vague character abstraction, so I just thought I'd write down a fragment. That fragment turned the abstraction into something more concrete and just kept going. At around p. 65, it started to get a lot harder, but that was because I was shifting from just making things up entirely as I went along to working in the context of what I'd created and having to think a bit further ahead about the plot -- the point where make believe starts to require some structure. I expect to get stuck every couple of chapters or so and then revision will be a pain in the neck. But I still do like the character and want to give him his story, so I seem to be trucking on, even though half the time I'm thinking it's not going to work at all.

There is a danger, I think, especially if you are writing epic fantasy, in succumbing to the quest of making worlds rather than making stories. This is different from world building disease where you let the world setting take over the story. Call it D&D disease, where you find yourself more interested in creating a world and characters than having those characters run around in the world. Once the world is complete, your brain wants to go make up another world, creating endless models rather than stories. And I don't know if there's an easy answer for dealing with that. I know that I've had stories die when I've gone from planning and thinking to writing, but that may have been more about my doing the wrong sort of writing process than the ideas themselves or some sort of hang-up. Ultimately, you may have to play around with a lot of different sorts of strategies to find what will give you a jumpstart and what won't. And that might involve jettisoning a lot of story ideas and narrative text along the way.

In your case, Choppy, you might want to try writing for someone. Ask a friend who's supportive to be your first reader, but only when the first draft or the second is completely finished. Then you have to finish it -- you have an obligation to provide a story for another person, rather than just yourself who is perfectly happy with the starts of lots of different stories. While it might make it like doing a really awful class assignment, it might also get you to the end of what you originally envisioned. Pick the story, obviously, for which you still have the most affection. Or you can try Maus' short story approach, which would make it easier to finish a piece and feel you're able to do it.

See, I told you it was a long answer, didn't I. :)

November 21st, 2004, 07:03 PM
Well, I don't think you are looking for my advice.

I have yet to complete a story in the last few YEARS. I did write a little before that, but those were my elementary/middle school days and those were simply rip-offs of movies, stories, etc. I saw. :p

November 22nd, 2004, 08:44 PM
Well, I don't think you are looking for my advice.

I have yet to complete a story in the last few YEARS. I did write a little before that, but those were my elementary/middle school days and those were simply rip-offs of movies, stories, etc. I saw. :p

Seems we have the same story.

I never stay focused, even on my last story I thought I would complete.
I read chapters 1-7 and decided it was full of holes.

November 22nd, 2004, 09:48 PM
Find a quiet, relaxed place to write, even if you have to sit in a corner wearing earphones listening to your Pure Moods CD. Turn off the TV. Set your alarm clock for one hour or get a kitchen timer with a really loud bell and set it for sixty minutes.

You now have one hour to write.

Don't worry about how it comes out. Just write.

When time's up, make a decision on if you want to go another hour or just 10 - 30 minutes. If you can't, put your stuff away until tomorrow night (or whenever you write), then set the alarm for an hour and get writing again.

Reward yourself. Eat ice cream. Go for a walk. Something. (If you're Hunter S. Thompson, your reward is to try and not to get arrested for anything you may have eaten, drank, injected or smoked at any time during the writing process.)

Unless you're someone who really annoys me, I don't suggest hooking the alarm to a bomb to help stimulate your imagination. Not only does it distract you from writing, if you do get into a groove you can easily lose track of time, upsetting the ATF, your neighbors and the fire department; destroying everything you've written in a very big mess; and possibly inducing politicians to decide that writing should be done by licensed professionals except under direction of a school teacher or judge.

And no, nobody I'm willing to admit knowing has ever done this. Not even that idiot with the firecracker who burned down his dorm room.

Subzero, put those seven chapters back in your folder and start on chapter 8. Any holes you find you can fill in later. Finishing your story is more important. Hole-filling waits for the re-write stage.

November 23rd, 2004, 01:00 PM
I stay focused by setting my sights low. My goal is to write at least 500 words a day, which I usually do in under an hour. Most of the time I actually end up writing more than 500 words but my brain has been fooled into not feeling overwhelmed. For me that's the trick. I once shot for 1000 words and half the time I ended up blowing the whole session off because it seemed like too much work.

Another thing I read once is that inspiration is overrated. You need to create a plot outline to carry you along when your inspiration goes on vacation.

November 23rd, 2004, 03:27 PM
Just wait until you get to the end of a big novel. "Arg, it shouldnt end like that. It makes no sense. Wait a minute, oh no I've got to change loads of stuff." I could do with some more inspiration right now...:)

November 24th, 2004, 12:35 AM
Well I don't know if this could be called "focus" but it is my new way of doing things and seems to work the best.

Start with a short story. Why? It tells the story. Just write the basic story, keep it short get it done. Alright so you came up with a lot of stuff you thought you be great in certain parts, so you can make a timeline as you go or just go back to your short story and fill in gaps. Progressively flesh it out and it gradually gets longer, and closer to perfection.

Why I like this? I have my story at its core down on paper, AND I don't have to work from front to back when I am sitting around thinking and a great scene pops into my head... I can put the scene in and then work towards leading the story there. Has problems, but it helps.