To Focus, or Not to Focus? That is the Question

Hello Friends,

Today is November 1st, and many of you are gearing up for NaNoWriMo–putting your noses to the grindstone with a plan to come out on the other side with a 50,000-word first draft. I wish you all the best of luck. This type of focus is an essential part of writing, but it’s also the most challenging part.

This year I joined a local writing group and was able to have someone beta read a draft of my novel. While this was going on, I found myself with time to spend on other writing projects. I wrote some poetry and short stories and even got a few of these things published. After the beta read finished, I was excited to jump into working on my book again. But then life happened. The best way to describe my last several months is “a series of unfortunate events.” Family emergency after family emergency got in the way of my writing time, but of course, family had to be my priority, and I don’t regret that.

I have managed to do substantial revisions and rewrites on my book, but my progress has felt painfully slow. Before all the you-know-what hit the fan, I had begun revising this website, but it didn’t get finished until today. Why? Because whenever I got the chance to write, I wanted to focus only on my novel. Even sitting here writing this today, I feel like I’m betraying my precious writing time. This brings me to the question I want to explore in this blog. As a creative person, what are the pros and cons of focusing on one thing for a long period of time vs. spending time on more than one creative project?

Today’s writing market offers many opportunities for those of us trying to break in. Sometimes it can feel like too many. Writing short stories or poems and getting them published in non-paying and paying online markets is a great way to get your name out there. But both the writing and the submitting take time and energy.

If you are trying to work on a novel with the hopes of having it traditionally published one day, you have to spend a lot of time on that one goal. But rumor has it that if you want to be published, it’s helpful not to be completely unknown. Of course, if you plan to self-publish a novel, then building an internet following is vital. So how do we balance all this, assuming that we don’t have the luxury of writing full-time? That’s the struggle I’m dealing with. How do I take time away from my novel to work on other things and not feel guilty about it? I know that pursuing other writing projects will help develop my craft, gain an audience for my work, and maybe even bring in some cash–but it won’t finish my novel.

Spending several writing sessions in a row immersed in my novel is my best way to write. It helps me hold the story in my head, and the ideas flow more easily. Unfortunately, I also crave variety. I’ve noticed that this seems to be a common trait of creative people. We seldom have only one art form we spend time on. We like to try writing different types of things, and some of us also spend time painting or doing some other form of art. Sometimes I find that creating visual art helps to inspire the writing part of my brain. But again, we come to that problem of focus. There are only so many hours in a day, and by the time we subtract all the activities necessary for basic living, we aren’t left with as much time as we’d like to pursue our creative projects.

I’m not providing any answers here today. I really want to hear your feedback. How do you balance the different types of creative work you want to do without neglecting whatever you consider to be your most important project? How much time do you think the modern writer should spend on developing an online audience? Have you found a way of working that solves some of these problems for you?

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