Friday, December 23, 2011

8 Ways to Stay Focused on Your Novel

Tonight we will be attending our church's Christmas Eve (Eve) service, and that will officially kick off my holiday vacation. I intend to spend the next week logging time with my family, watching Christmas movies, and doing lots and lots of writing and reading.

So, today will be the last post until January 2nd, and I won't be spending much time on email and such either. You're still welcome to email me, of course, but it'll likely be 2012 before you get a response.

A writer emailed me to say, "I hear a story or read a book and all new book ideas pop into my mind. I never end up finishing a book because I start a new one as soon as I started the last! What should I do? How do I stay focus and interested in my old ideas?"

I think most writers deal with this to an extent. For me, it tends to be around the halfway point of my current work-in-progress (WIP). That's when the story starts to feel sluggish, when my plot lines are a bit out of control, and when tying everything together feels the most overwhelming. Then I'll find myself daydreaming about that great idea I had last week, which has even more potential than this current project, and I just know it could be my best book yet. Really, it would be irresponsible to not put aside my WIP in favor of the new project! (*Rolling my eyes.*)

If you're writing just for fun, then I say write whatever you feel like. If it's just for fun, why force yourself to write stuff you don't want to? It's a creative outlet, after all, and there's no reason to put pressure on yourself. Kinda like pleasure reading. If you're picking out a book to read for enjoyment, and you like funny, heartwarming books, why would you pick The Heart of Darkness when you could read the latest Jennifer Weiner novel?

But if you've been doing that for a while, and you're at a place where you want to take your writing to the next level, if you want to prove to yourself that you can write a full manuscript, then yes, the time has come to stay focused. Here are 8 ways to do that:

1. Make a clear goal

This is huge. Don't just say "I'm going to finish this manuscript before I start on any other stories." Make it concrete. Make it manageable. "I'm going to finish this manuscript by writing 1,000 words a day before I go to bed."

2. Share your goal

If you have a friend or family member who encourages your writing, tell them about your goal. Ask them if they would please follow up with you. It can be as simple as, "Did you write your thousand words last night?" or "What's going on in the story now?"

3. Write a synopsis or outline

Sometimes I have trouble moving forward in the story because I just feel stuck. I don't know what's going to happen next (or it's a scene I'm not looking forward to writing) and my mind starts to wander to those other book ideas I've had recently.

This is a great time for me to - if I haven't already - write a synopsis. It's just a 2ish page summary of what happens in the book. A lot of times when I do that, when I see how everything will come together, it renews my energy.

4. Brainstorm with a buddy

A lot of times I've already written my synopsis, or I'm genuinely stuck. What on earth would my character do next? Or maybe I have an idea, but it feels like a tired, unoriginal idea. When that happens, I pull in a writing friend. (Often it's Roseanna White - and today's the last day to get yourself entered to win her latest release, Love Finds You in Annapolis, Maryland.) If you don't have a friend who would be good for brainstorming, think about joining the Go Teen Writers Facebook Group. A couple times a week, it seems, there are young writers helping each other with their ideas.

5. Make a story board

I have a huge cork board in my office:

I use it for all kinds of things, but I really like being able to tack up character photos, maps of the area, articles, and various other items that remind me of my WIP.

6. Create a book cover

This isn't something I've tried, but I've heard other writers say they make book covers for their WIPs. It's something to remind them of their goal, and that the finished product is well worth the struggle. Katie McCurdy has one up on her blog for The Princess' Assasin.

I'm no artist, so I'm really not sure if this would work for me or not, but it could be a fun way to motivate yourself. (Or to encourage other writers you know - make them a book cover to express that you believe in them!)

7. Save your other ideas

Create a system for preserving all those random bits of genius that come your way. I keep an Ideas and Inspiration notebook.

8. Give yourself an "other project" writing allowance.

If you have an idea that absolutely will not let go, give yourself a time limit (1 day or 2 days) to write down everything you want for that other idea that's niggling at you. Write the first chapter, character descriptions, themes, whatever you want. Purge yourself of it, then put it away, and get back to work on your WIP.

Those are my thoughts on the matter, but what about you? How do you stay focused and motivated?

Have a great Christmas, guys! See you back here on January 2nd!


  1. I've also discovered that sometimes I lose interest because, honestly, my book has gotten BORING. And if it's boring me, its mommy, you KNOW it'll be boring to the reader to. That's when it's good to take the (modified) advice of suspense writers Coleen Coble and Brandilyn Collins--Kill Somebody. ;-) I don't generally do that exactly in my romances (though sometimes . . .), but the idea is to shake it up. Do something unexpected and crazy. Tossing something like that into that upcoming boring chapter always renews my interest.

  2. *chuckle* "Kill somebody" made me laugh. And, hey, it's a first draft, you can always resurrect them later but that just might provide the punch you need to get motivated again.

    I really like 8 because the WIP I'm working on now was the story that was inspired by one of the writing prompts and wouldn't let go. The MC didn't care that I had plans to do a rewrite of another novel, she wanted her story written yesterday.

    So that's what I'm doing. :)

    I think there's a difference, though, in that I didn't leave the middle of a story for this one. That other novel is finished, just in need of editing and technically I've edited the first three chapters (which are the most important, right?) and I know exactly what I want to do and where to take the new plotline. For the sake of time, though, in this cramped-for-that-commodity-college-student's-life, I'm writing. :)

  3. Like Rachelle, *kill somebody* made me laugh. The thing is, though, I love putting twists in the story. Like in my current WIP, I decided that it wasn't enough to have the four trained characters, who knew what was going on, so then I brought in their SIBLINGS, who had absolutely no idea what was happening and were completely untrained. FUN!

    As to the eight suggestions, I might even add a ninth. Because what I've done is make my WIPs shorter than I had planned them, because you can always go back, but just being able to finish, no matter how short, impacts your ability to finish other WIPs. Makes it easier.

  4. There's nothing so satisfying as actually finishing a novel! For a long time, I suffered with novel ADD - I'd start a novel, get pretty far into it and then decide that I didn't really know where I was going with the story... the writing wasn't that good... and I had a much better idea, so I'd drop that story and move on. It wasn't a total loss. Writing so many hundreds of thousands of words really helped me become a better writer. But it took a while before I could learn to actually finish the novel I set out to write.

    I labored through my latest work (now in the rewriting stage) but got stuck right in the middle of the climactic battle and couldn't end it. Of all the places to get stuck! So much possibility!

    I sat down one afternoon and decided that I wasn't going to sleep again until I finished! It was grueling, but it went much quicker than I expected! I finished before midnight!

    I'm fairly certain I ended up killing a character or two and then launched into the final few chapters of the story. Writing those final two words "the End" on the bottom of the last page was so satisfying! Even if it's tough and you feel like the story is terrible, actually writing a novel from beginning to end and getting that "little" accomplishment under your belt is so worthwhile!

    Yeah numbers 7&8! Right now, I'm determined to finish the rewrite of my current WIP before I really start anything new. I have a rapidly becoming mammoth-sized file in my computer where I store all of my new ideas and every now and then I sneak in and write a little bit of a scene or part of a synopsis for a new story so that I can get it out of my system and focus on the old!

  5. Roseanna, kill someone is great suggestion! Erle Stanley Gardner, the author of the Perry Mason novels, used to say that when things got boring you should bring in a gun. I often find myself wondering what "gun" I can pull in. (For those who have read So Over It, Skylar gets 2 phone calls during hard conversations she's having with Eli ... those were born out of needing a gun, because I needed to get that girl out of there!)

    Gillian, wow, depriving yourself of sleep! Now THAT is dedication. Good for you. And like you, I had some serious novel ADD, but once I forced myself to finish that first manuscript, I really started to grow as a writer.

  6. "Kill somebody" tickled my funny bone. xD

    (be prepared, this could get wordy)

    I suffer very much from spastic writing xD Which loosely translates too: I don't suffer from writers block; I suffer from writers explosion. I get way to many ideas at the same time! I took the idea for the "Idea Binder" that I read a few weeks back on this blog and it has helped me a lot.

    I sometimes get bored with my book that I write, so I move on to another one. This has resulted in me writing three books at the same time and they have very little in common. One is set in the 1890's (sort of Jane Austeny paced), the other is in the early 1900's and is a fanfic and the last one is a comedy set in modern times about spies! I'm writing them all at the same time, so if I feel like killing off a character, I can. I simply jump to my spy book. If I feel like going all Victorian on my characters, I waltz on back to my Victorian novel! :D

    However... I still suffer from writers explosion, even with my three novels. So what I do is, I write down a rough synopsis in my Idea Binder. I write down EVERYTHING. Character biographies, the story I have planned out in my head, the conflict, the title, the setting, everything! If I can sit down and just write my thoughts down, I feel better. It's like letting out a good sneeze. I got the idea down in full, and can go back to it when I've finished one of my other three novels. Currently, I have 8 completely written out novel ideas and 6 more half written ideas (can you believe I got them all only since about two months ago?).

    In other words... My solution to staying focused when you're itching to move on: write that pesky other idea down in full/ indulge it like it's a chocolate craving/ ...then kill somebody in that novel you were trying to focus on.

  7. Random Thinker - "writers explosion" totally cracked me up. I'm glad the idea binder thingy helped, and I love your analogy of a good sneeze :)

    And this: My solution to staying focused when you're itching to move on: write that pesky other idea down in full/ indulge it like it's a chocolate craving/ ...then kill somebody in that novel you were trying to focus on.

    Is brilliant advice.

  8. I'm not a planner, except in my head. I have all these ideas for what to do with my characters, what scenes to write. I had my own deadline. Honestly now that I think about it I think that it was unrealistic. A year to write a 100,000 word novel could be possible, but I'm a freshmen and right now I'd rather be focused on what do do as far as acedemics go then trying to force myself into a project I need a little time on.
    I do still write, on other stuff though. I think while I'm on Christmas break and after I get settled in, I'll be writing more on a story line that I've taken farther than I have anything else.
    Thanks for the post

  9. I usually use my "special" notebook (aka, Ideas & Inspiration) to work on things in a story I have yet to decide. (Plot lines. Character facts. The why's and the how's. Sometimes I just muse on paper. It's really useful because it keeps me interested and involved in the future of the story (the grass is greener on the other side) while I still can go home ad work on the present part.

    My biggest issue (the thing that most often makes me abandon my projects) is that I can't get past the beginning. Everything I try seems wrong, or it has the wrong vibe. (I guess I have serious problems when it comes to believing that I can fix everything with editing.) And I have this terrible attitude that everything I write in the beginning is n\binding. So if I say one thing about a character, it's like that's a binding fact for the rest of the story.

    But I digress. My point is, YES! This is my biggest problem in writing, so I'm so glad to see a post on it! (And any advice on the whole getting past the first chapter thing, Stephanie? Thanks!)

  10. I'm happy to say I've never bored myself with one of my own stories. My brainchilds often keep me entertained for months on end. However, I can say I get stuck. And the best advice I have (beyond the advice in the post, which I use all of) is to let ideas incubate if needed. My newest work was a 5-page one shot originally, which I just let sit. Soon it became an entire novella. Soon is six months later, when I picked the idea up again, by the way.

  11. Ugh! I keep trying to start a notebook, but unfortunately, I never write these things down, because I'm usually busy starting them! Also unfortunately, story ideas tend to stay in my head FOREVER. It's like I can't get rid of them! Okay, sometimes that's good. :D

  12. It's kinda funny, I always tried to keep a notebook to write story stuff in -- but I always failed for some reason. I write in my dairy everyday, though -- and now my diary is a mix of story planning and my actual life, because, in the past week, I've discovered it's the only way I'll actually write my ideas down.

    MERRY CHRISTMAS, everyone! Let's hope that I actually fall asleep this Christmas Eve. ;)

  13. Are there still going to be Writing prompts?

  14. I made a cover yesterday (It won't be the one I actually use, of course) But it was really fun and awesome to look at! Also, I find outlines, which I don't like writing at all, help immensely.

  15. I struggle with not getting bored with my current WIP seriously badly - Thanks for the tips!

  16. okay this might not go with the post, but it's something I struggle with.
    Is it okay if you read the title of a book or various things, and you get ideas for your own story??? or if you read something in a book and get ideas from that?? i don't want to 'steal' any ideas
    hopefully that makes sense :D

  17. Hey! I've just discovered your blog a few days ago (I wish I had earlier) and spent hours and hours reading every post and taking notes xD It's helped me so much! I wanted to be a writer since I was 7, so this blog is the best thing I've found yet.

    Staying focused seems pretty hard, maybe that's why I started several books and never got past the second chapter.
    Can't wait to read the new post! :)


  18. Haha Chanelle, I guess we were both reading the whole blog at the same time then. It's amazing, isn't it?

  19. Haha :)) I think I was reading every night until midnight or something like that..
    And yes, the blog is awesome. =]

  20. Chanelle, I'm so glad you've found Go Teen Writers and that it's been helpful! Welcome!

    I had a tough time staying focused on writing while I was still in school. Once I graduated and could dedicate so much of my time to it, staying focused became a lot easier. And finding writing friends and a writing community really helped too.

  21. Tessa, I think that's pretty common. You of course want your story to feel original, but there's nothing wrong with using TV shows or books to encourage your own creativity. I think that's why you so often see a project billed as something like, "Veronica Mars meets Star Trek."

    Of course I've also had the experience where I read a book and think, "This is Twilight, just with something different than vampires," so you want to make sure you aren't mimicking another story, just that you're using it as a springboard.

  22. okay thanks,
    and I agree with the Twilight thing, that's one bad thing about writing a best-seller, everyone tries to copy it :D

  23. This is a little off topic, but it's something thats been bothering me for a while and I need some advice... I always have trouble deciding on an idea that I can commit to. Like, right now I am stuck between a story that would be very original but that I have no idea how to plot or what the main character is like, and one thats not quite as original but full of characters that I am already attached to and that I have a pretty good idea of the plot for. Still, whenever I think about it I get the nagging feeling that it's been done before, and it's making it hard to concentrate. What should I do? (btw, I just want to say that your blog has been extremely helpful and that I'm so grateful that I found it! Please don't ever stop posting!)

  24. Laurapoet, perhaps you should combine the characters from one story with the plot of the other?

  25. Hi Roseanna, re# 4 above, I am commenting to be included in the second drawing on February 15 in The Great Annapolis Giveaway. (All entries received after December 15 will automatically roll into the second giveaway.) I have been enjoying the powdered wig comments! Why would they want early Marilyn Monroe "platinum" hair color, with curls? Happy New Year!