In pursuit of single-tasking: Update

I’ve been writing here lately about my desire to be less distracted and more focused. This goal is tied to a deeper desire: to write faster and more efficiently. And to derive joy more consistently from the process.

Over the past couple of weekends, I’ve stayed off the Internet on Saturday and Sunday. My goal was to steal back for myself the time I tend to waste on the Web. On both weekends, I was pleased to see that I easily met–and surpassed– my daily word count goals for my writing, and I had lots of time left over for pure pleasure: walks, reading, meeting friends, spending time with my husband.

After a couple of weekends like this, I decided to revisit this advice from author Rachel Aaron about writing faster. I’d posted about her technique before, but I hadn’t made a serious effort to follow it. Now was the time.

Why now? For me, the hardest part of the novel-writing process is what I call the “mushy middle.” I’m maybe 100 or 150 pages into the novel, and it feels like I’m standing knee-deep in a swamp. I have an idea of what the next big scene will be, but I can’t quite see it from here. And I sure as hell can’t see any way to get there.

That’s where I was a week ago. I knew what the next big plot point would be, but I didn’t know how to get there. I was pretending to wait for inspiration, but in reality I was procrastinating, distracting myself, spinning my wheels. Anything BUT solving the problem.

Getting off the Internet for a couple of days reminded me of how it feels to focus. What I liked about Rachel Aaron’s method for writing faster was that it was all about focusing, especially the part where you know what you’re going to write that day before you start writing. It seems obvious, right? But often I would just open a document and hope the scene would get rolling on its own. That I’d write my way into the actual scene. Sometimes it worked; often it didn’t.

So last week, I set two rules for my writing sessions:

1. I’d be offline during my writing time.

2. I’d take 5-10 minutes to sketch out the scene in a paragraph before I started writing.

I won’t say that those two rules wrought magic, but they DID speed up my writing and make it more fun. And they tripled my average daily output.

Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that 1,000 words was a reasonable daily goal for writing fiction. And that’s pretty much what I was doing. Some days I’d barely make 800. Others I’d zip past 1,200 and feel like I’d really accomplished something.

Now, I’m writing for fewer hours but averaging 3,000 words a day. My two “rules” are actually two benefits:

1. Less distraction

2. Sharper focus

In addition, I’ve built up momentum that is propelling me forward through the story. I don’t feel like I’m lost in a swamp. Now, it’s more like I’m in a room, describing what goes on there. Then a door opens, and I go into the next room and describe what happens there. Then another door opens . . .

I’m excited. I’m excited about writing faster and with more focus. More importantly, I’m excited about my story again. This week, I’m going to try to increase my average word count still more. I don’t expect this streak to last forever. I know I’ll hit walls and get stuck sometimes. But I feel like I’ve got a way to get through that now, because I’ve remembered how to focus. I’m not just trying single-tasking; I’m loving it!


About nancyholzner

9 responses to “In pursuit of single-tasking: Update

  • sharonstogner

    *takes out pom poms and quietly cheers so as not to disturb the focus* go Nancy, Go Nancy…
    glad to hear you are enjoying your writing again πŸ™‚

    • nancyholzner

      Thanks, Sharon. It wasn’t all struggle, but there have been so many distractions going on in “real life,” that strange world that meets my eyes when I tear them away from the computer screen, that I really needed to get my focus back. πŸ™‚

  • deborahblake1

    I’d say tripled production is magic! I tend to write the next scene in my head before I start to write it (usually during a so-called nap); the finished result is never exactly the same, but I definitely find it helps to know generally where I’m going before I start.

    Also, YAY YOU!

    • nancyholzner

      I’m gonna keep pushing to see if I can hit 4K or 5K on a regular basis. Looks like I have a big nonfiction project looming just over the horizon, so I’m trying to write as much as I can now, while I can devote my days to fiction. And then maybe I can start thinking about one of those back-burner projects we discussed over lunch!

  • Stefanie Skye

    That is excellent! Glad you have found a new way to write that makes you happy. I have always thought that cutting oneself off from everything (internet etc) really helped when I had to write papers for college. Actually now that I think about it I did get better grades when I waited til the “last minute” to complete a multi page research paper. I think the pressure of a deadline helped greatly increase my focus and what I wrote. Of course the stress of that type of situation is not ideal. Glad you found a way that helps increase your writing without the stress of feeling like you are in a huge swamp. πŸ™‚

    • nancyholzner

      Thanks, Stefanie. My mom likes to remind me that I never started a paper the night before it was due when I was in high school (and I was the same way in college). I had to reconsider that approach when I had a 200-page dissertation to write in grad school! But you’re right about deadlines; nothing focuses attention like a ticking clock. πŸ™‚

      I’m also pleased by the way cultivating focus leaves me feeling energized, as opposed to feeling dissipated after a day of distractions. This experiment has been good for me so far, in more ways than I’d anticipated!

  • MelanieL

    Thank you for sharing, seriously. I don’t know that I’ll ever be a professional or that I’ll even finish one of the many stories that I begin, but getting to read about the worries, stresses, hangups, struggles, joys, solutions, triumphs of authors like yourself gives me some hope that there is a chance that I could accomplish something.


    • nancyholzner

      Melanie, I’m so glad that I can help. It took me a lot of years to believe I could write professionally, and even after five published novels I’m still learning. Without exception, all of my writer friends are very generous in sharing their experiences, and I look to them to help me find my way. So it’s great to hear I have something to offer other writers, as well.

  • On Internet Distraction « M. Giroux Stories

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