We’ve all been there. You sit in front of your computer and set out to write a piece. At times, you’re even optimistic. “Today is the day!” “I’ll write two chapters.” “I’m going to write through the night!” These are some of the things we tell ourselves (I know I have). Sometimes you even start well. Others, you don’t. Either way, you eventually find your motivation flagging, your goals unmet and whatever
Don’t worry, it happens to all of us. Goods news though. It is possible to fight off whatever is preventing you from completing what you set out to do. There are methods to help you focus during your writing sessions and as the title suggests, avoid losing steam. A few that work for me are;
1. Focus on an objective:
An easy way to keep working even when you’re not feeling like it is to have a goal or objective to work towards. Think of it as a race, one with a finish line. So long as you keep yourself moving towards that line you won’t fall out of the race. It’s the same thing here.
However, try to give yourself something meaningful to work towards. You can, of course, start a writing session and tell yourself, “I’m going to write a thousand words in the next hour”. Unfortunately, that isn’t something that will matter much to you.
In my experience, those are the sorts of goals or objectives that fail to keep you interested simply because they fail to get you invested enough. Make the objectives more personal or rewarding and you’ll find yourself working that much harder to achieve them. Additionally, Giving yourself something concrete to work towards allows you to measure your progress and better still lets you know you haven’t earned the right to take a break yet or worse stop. Personally, I find that milestones, in whatever I’m working on, act as great objectives/goals. Examples that have worked for me in the past are;
- Valerian beating Kailan DriftCloud
- Explain the basics of the Batharian Army
- Discuss the importance of the stages of cultivation
2. Create an Outline
Once you’ve got an objective you want to work towards, break the task into multiple smaller ones. These smaller objectives are sub-objectives that when completed will lead to the achievement of the greater objective. This is really important because every time you tick one thing off the list you achieve a small victory and are one step towards reaching your goal. It is great to count small victories because the sense of achievement works to sustain your projects both small and long.
In addition to this, creating an outline of how you want your session to go helps keep you on track which in turn helps you focus. They keep you from straying or deviating and make it easier for you to accomplish your greater objective. For example, if you set out a writing goal it might be best to think of the subtasks first and not focus on the goal itself. Some goals seem daunting at times. Working on bite-sized chunks will go down easy than picking the whole hog and setting it on your plate.
3. Set a deadline
Want to know something that makes people work faster and harder to the point of temporarily ignoring fatigue? Pressure! Keeping the pressure on is one of the easiest ways to force yourself to work and when that happens, you usually don’t stop until the pressure comes off. I remember working on my birthday release. I’d had a few assignments I need to turn in that week. Prioritising them first left me with very little time to get what I need together. Then sinisterSonnet called. He couldn’t finish his part due to some b*ls%it labwork, wifi crap out something. That left me with everything on my shoulders and less than twenty-four hours to finish.
I typed the equivalent of four chapters (there was a special) that day and in all, close to fifteen thousand words. Then, I edited them, released and generally got everything in order including our social media pages and the (at the time) new patreon page. That remains the single most productive session I have ever had. The only meal I had was the two-litre bottle of Coca-Cola I nursed through the session and I barely got out of my desk chair. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend that anyone try to do something similar. I’m just listing it as an example of an extreme case.
Deadlines work but keep them light and above all reasonable. Ensure that they have weight. Remind yourself often of the importance of keeping them. Have a chapter to release tomorrow and you’ve got nothing ready? Think of the disappointed readers and work that guilt into making you keep your deadline. Trust me, it works!
4. Take a break to perform an activity
This is where things get controversial. You’re trying to work, to focus and prevent yourself from growing tired or worse, distracted. The last thing you need is to stop writing. Sadly, there are times when nothing could be further from the truth. Writer’s block is a real thing, guys! It can show up at the most inopportune times and need not necessarily be as severe as a week long inspiration drought.
Are you working on a scene that just won’t flow the way you want it to? Is the description you’ve just written off somehow but you’re not sure how? Can’t find the words you need? Do you find yourself misspelling the same word more than three times? Maybe, you’re just getting frustrated. Maybe, you’ve been working too long. Perhaps, your mind is getting overburdened. The question is, what to do when this happens? The answer, take a break!
Me? I get off my ass and take a walk around the house. I head to my younger brother’s room and engage in some mostly meaningless conversation or even call up ‘Sonnet. I used to the kitchen to fix myself a snack but I’m currently on a diet so not lately (too many late night snacks). The whole point of the exercise is to get your mind off your project for a little while to let those brain juices recharge so that when you go back you do your job better.
It is important to note though that your breaks should never be so long as to make you completely lose track of your goal. Keep them short and the activities simple and avoid activities that will pull you away from your work. Don’t think to yourself, ‘Let’s see what’s happening with WMW?’ (learnt that one the hard way). Try to stay under the ten-minute mark. If it’s been twelve and you’re not done with whatever activity you started, stop; Remember the break is not what’s important. Your writing is!
5. Know when to stop
This is the hardest bit of advice to take but sometimes, you just can’t have a successful writing session. You can minimise distractions, set your goal, deadline, everything on this list or off it and still fail but that’s okay…from time to time.
If you’re getting frustrated and making no headway, if you just can’t find word to convey what you want, if you’ve reached a point where you’re confused and cannot even visualise what you mean to write or if the writer’s block ha got you bad then bring your session to a close and try again later.
This is very important because it is key to avoiding losing steam, not in-session but in-project. I’m speaking from experience here. HoGW is my longest ever project. When I was younger and more impatient I found myself abandoning stories quite often. Sometimes, it’s because I had this great new idea that couldn’t wait and so I’d jump projects but sometimes…sometimes it’s because I got frustrated with the project itself.
Remember what I said earlier about taking a break when you’re getting frustrated? It’s the same principle here. Attempting to work through your blocks and frustrations by forcing them has never worked for me. On the contrary, it makes things worse. I’d only get more frustrated and in extreme cases angry and disappointed, at myself and my ineptitude and eventually at the project I’m trying to work on. Do that often enough and you wouldn’t even what to work on it.
You don’t want to reach the point where you begin to hate the project you’ve spent time on nor do you want the first thing that pops into your mind when you think of it to be the numerous failures you’ve come to associate with it. So take my advice, if you find that your session is fruitless despite working at it. Stop! Try again later! Take a nap or even a break from writing about it altogether. After a day or two, you can make another attempt. You’ll find that the writing will come easier and whatever funk you were in gone!
These are some of the methods I have come to rely on to keep me writing and producing HoGW for you guys and for myself. They work for me and maybe they’ll work for you too. Try them out and when you do, send me some feedback so I can know how it went.
Also, I’m interested in hearing what methods you use. How do you keep from losing steam when writing? Let me know in the comment section below.
Warning: None of the advice given above will prevent or stop persistent or determined distractions. I myself have two wonderful nieces, aged 13 and 3, who have ruined multiple writing sessions over the last two months. Like I said, sometimes, you’ve just got to know when to quit. Other times, schedule your sessions better to avoid them.