Writing is gloriously creative chaos. Except when it is not.
On the best of days an idea takes hold, inspiration ensues and the result is pages of unique and well-written text that flow effortlessly from your fingers. On those days it seems as if writing is the most natural thing in the world and there is nothing else in the world that you would rather be doing.
But then there are other days; days when you sit in front of the screen desperate for a glimmer of the inspiration that filled you to overflowing just yesterday, painfully eking out a few words or sentences and wondering what on earth could have possessed you into thinking that you are actually a writer.
On those days it is very easy to find a reason not to write; very easy to let yourself get distracted by phone calls, errands, housework, something, anything else. But if you are going to write for a living, indeed if you are going to make any real progress with your writing at all, even as a hobby, it is important that you not let the down days grow to become down weeks, months, or years. This means keeping yourself focused, and to be focused, you need to be organized even if you normally consider organization to be four letter word. Below you will find five tips for staying focused, organized in order to give your creative juices the opportunity to flow, even under the most distracting of circumstances.
FIVE TIPS TO STAY FOCUSED & ORGANIZED
#1. Schedule a Dedicated Writing Time
The first order of business in being a writer, is to write. Not just to write when the inspiration hits you, but to write each and every day, no matter how you are feeling, no matter whether you feel the creative juices flowing or not.
When you are “in the flow” of an idea, dedicated writing time is hardly an issue. In fact, when inspiration takes hold, it is sometimes more difficult to stop long enough to take care of necessary daily activities. On those days it is laughable to think that you would actually need a dedicated writing time. This particular tip is not for those days.
Setting aside a specific block of time dedicated to your writing is imperative to keep yourself on track, especially for writing projects. Block this time off on your calendar, turn off your phone, mute your notifications, and write. It is especially important to keep to this schedule even when you feel as if you would rather not touch a pen or keyboard.
#2. Carve Out a Dedicated Writing Space
Being a writer is often glamorized as being the ultimate “portable” job. All you need is a computer and a fully charged battery or available electrical outlet or, barring access to a computer, a legal pad and pen, right?
While the ease of portability is definitely a plus when it comes to writing (and who doesn’t like the idea of sitting in a coffee shop, typing away at your story while watching incoming patrons and sipping on a caramel late?), the reality is that when it comes down to brass tacks and you find your writing derailed by your cat sneezing (forget the steady flow of coffee shop patrons) it is best to have a place where you can go where you can block out the world around you and focus completely on what needs to be done.
It really is important that you have a space dedicated solely to your writing. While a separate room is ideal; a place where you can enter into your writing “routine” when you enter and close the door on outside distractions and concerns when you close the door, a whole room isn’t necessary. Even the smallest space can suffice if it is dedicated only to your writing. A desk tucked into the corner of your bedroom, or even a folding tray table and chair set up in the dining room. Sit with your back to the room and add a pair of noise cancellation headphones and even the folding tray table scenario can suffice as a dedicated work space
If you have a whole room to work with, decorate it with things that inspire you; pictures or art that stir your imagination, quotes from your favorite authors, a calendar dedicated just to your writing schedule. If you only have a corner, you can still tack up a photo or bulletin board to serve as the focus to your space.
One thing is important. No matter how small the space you allocate for your writing, that is all that it should be used for. Don’t use it for stacking unused books or let the kids use it as an art space. This space is yours. It belongs to your writer’s soul. This is where you will come when you are at a loss for words; when focus and creativity seem to have deserted you altogether.
#3. Know & Write Out Your Goals
It is not enough just to have scheduled dedicated writing time and have a dedicated writing space. In order to keep the focus on your writing, it is important that you know just what it is that you are wanting to do. Are you trying to finish a particular project? Are you wanting to learn and practice a particular writing technique? Are you wanting to generate ideas for new material? Are you just wanting to keep your writing skills sharp until inspiration hits you with a new idea?
There are many kinds of goals when it comes to writing. Most of these goals can be broken down into long-term, medium-term, short-term or ongoing goals.
Coming up with new ideas or keeping your writing skills sharp can be seen as ongoing goals. These are things that you are going to want to do daily, or weekly in order to hone yourself into the best writer you possibly can. Other projects, such as creating a weekly blog post or submitting one of your poems into a competition, for example, would be examples of short-term goals. Telling yourself that you are going to turn your adventures on last January’s Caribbean cruise into a short story that you want to get published in an online format would be a medium-term goal, while writing and publishing a novel would be a long-term goal.
Regardless of how long it will realistically take you to complete a goal, the first step is in writing down what it is that you are looking to accomplish. Then you can move on to tip #4.
#4. Break Your Goals Down Into Bite-Sized Pieces
If you sit down to a steak dinner it would be more than a little daunting to think that you would have to eat the steak without cutting it up into pieces. The same holds true for your writing goals.
For example, writing and publishing a novel can seem beyond daunting; impossible even if you thought that you would have to do it all in one sitting. But if you break it down into steps and then focus on each step until it is completed, chances are that you will end up with a completed manuscript without even realizing it.
Taking the time to break your goals down into bite sized pieces, then focusing on the first step, then the next step and so on can mean the difference between having piles of un-completed, unpublished work and making a successful career or financially lucrative hobby.
#5. Do Not Become Attached
No matter how useful they are, beware of becoming attached to scheduled writing times and step-by-step goals. This may seem as if it is in contradiction to the rest of what has been written here, but it is important to remember that the four tips listed above are designed to help you stay on track, to keep you organized in what it is that needs to be done and focused on the goals that you have for your writing during the down times; times when you are lacking in inspiration and motivation.
You and I both know, however, that when you once again find yourself caught up in the flow of creativity, and you will, there is no fighting it.
Getting into the habit of writing daily, even when uninspired, of having a dedicated writing time and of breaking down writing goals into logical and organized steps, can be addictive. You feel as if you are actually accomplishing something, and to suddenly abandon this clear-cut schedule with its step-by-step instructions can seem like a risk. However, you need to be flexible enough to know when to let go of the steps and the schedule and just ride that creative wave for as long as you can stay on the metaphorical board.
Writing, after all, is, at its best, gloriously creative chaos. Except when it isn’t.