How to keep focus and motivation while writing a novel

Well, I sure wish I knew the answer to this one too.  Greenelephantperson asked me this question earlier, and I thought I’d respond to her request.

The first thing I thought of was how I write.  Almost immediately I realized that “what works for me may not work for you.”  I can describe how I write, but that does not answer the question.  My real answer is, “I don’t know.  I haven’t done it yet.”

Let me tell you a little about the journey The First Novel has taken.  Maybe my own experiences will do the best job of explaining.

The First Novel began about four years ago as a simple story that I wanted to tell to a friend.  It described a man and a woman taking a trip together.  Because I was (and still am) fascinated with old aircraft, and because I had just learned all about Transcontinental Air Transport, I framed the trip as a journey on TAT.  There was no ending to the story at the time, and I had no thought of making it into a full length novel.

Then, as such things tend to do in my mind, the story began to grow.  Sometimes I chewed on it consciously, and at other times it must have been subconsciously because a thought about a particular scene or a piece of the plot would pop into my head.  I kept writing, although it hasn’t been a smooth progress.  There were blank periods that lasted months.

That explains my initial motivation and how the novel got started.  More to the point, however, is what has kept me going.  The simple answer is other people.

I shared my story with my sister because, being a Big Sister, she can be expected to pat me on the head and tell me what a wonderful guy I am.  But also because she is my sister, she can also be expected to tell me when my fly is open, or when I’m being an intolerant douchebag.  I have always been able to accept her criticism easily, and she’s good at it.  So she would kick me in the butt from time to time and keep me going.

Next is Chainsaw, my writing buddy.  (I haven’t formally proposed to him yet, but we’re writing buddies in action if not in title).  Chainsaw has already finished a couple of novels, and that drives me crazy.  I know he just looks down his nose at me constantly and thinks I’m inferior because the world is just full of unpublished wanna-be authors who are working on a novel but haven’t finished one yet.  So, partly because it is a male competitive thing, I’m pushing to get my first draft done so that I can at least say I have completed a novel.  (And besides which he has only uploaded some text to Amazon and set a price for it.  I could poop all over some paper (figuratively) and sell that on Amazon too.  Take that Chainsaw.  *MY* novel will be on the NYT bestseller lists for years.  But don’t worry, you can come visit me on my yacht.)

So that’s Person Two who keeps me motivated.  Person Three is you, dear readers.  You and everyone else to whom I have been bold enough to announce, “I am writing a novel.”  Because many of you will encourage me, like my sister, and many of you will look down your noses at me, like Chainsaw, because I haven’t finished a novel.  So I’m motivated to keep going because I’m going to both earn your praise and shove your noses in my finished novel when I make a down payment on my Maserati.

That answers the motivation part of the question, at least for me.  Focus is another struggle, and the mechanisms for achieving that are as varied as writers are.  My main enemy is distraction.  I have a tendency to “research” as I write (how many horsepower did a single Mayback V-12 on a zeppelin produce?) and that often leads me down a rabbit hole into the wonderland of the Interwebs where I have a tendency to get lost.  Next thing I know, I’m “researching” the two types of V-16 engines that Cadillac produced in the 1930’s and I realize I’ve got to get up and go to work in six hours.

Personally, I like to slap the headphones on and listen to the Blues while I write.  It does tend to minimize certain other distractions for me, although some writers need graveyard quiet.

Bottom line is, whatever works works.  You’ve got to figure out how to get into the zone and write – focus – and you’ve got to find a way to push yourself into that zone day after day – motivation.

Someday, if I follow my own advice, I’ll be able to say, “I wrote a novel.”

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