• Losing Focus

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Strategies     Comments 3 comments

    (Editor’s Note: Tonight at WriteByNight we’re hosting a Blackmail Party for WBN client Leah Kaminsky, who has to complete a draft of her novel by the end of the day or else shave her head in front of us all. We will also be unveiling a very cool new tool for writers seeking accountability for their writing projects. All are welcome to join us, 7:00 at WBN.

    In the spirit of all this talk about deadlines and accountability, guest contributor Josh Squires offers some advice on sticking with the methodology that works for you and your creative projects. DD)


    by Josh Squires

    I’ve always been a goal-oriented individual. It’s important for me to figure out what I want and then come up with a plan for how to get there. That’s partly why I thought I would make my first deadline for submitting to a local horror anthology. Turns out, I failed to stick to the script.

    Inspired, But Not Right Now

    Everyone has that one activity or time of day or special cocktail that helps them focus their creativity. Mine is almost always when I’m in the shower or as I’m trying to fall asleep. This is when my brain is released of its worries and cares and meanders like a mountain stream through the very weird folds in my gray matter. Let me point out that neither of these times are conducive to getting ideas down on paper. I always try to remember my train of thought and mostly I can recall the core ideas, but it never comes back to me with the same impact it first had. I’m almost always leaving something out and it’s almost always something important.


    Getting The Ball Rolling

    After several “ideation” sessions (aka, showering or sleeping) I finally hit on an idea I thought would work. I had something casually creepy that could transform into something terrible. I felt it would really stand out, based on the stories published in the previous volume. I didn’t waste any time. The first five pages streamed out of me like a kettle releasing steam. My fingers were guided by pure inspiration. I didn’t take a second to write down anything other than the story itself. Later on, I stopped to do some work (the kind that pays) and to have lunch. I didn’t end up coming back to the story until a couple days later–and that’s when I realized I had a problem.


    My Break Broke It

    I picked up the manuscript and reread it to remember where I’d left off. As I did so, I quickly noticed that I had started the story with one idea, and it had morphed into something slightly different. Not such a bad thing, but the last three pages made the first two completely irrelevant. So I spent the better part of this day reverse-engineering my story to create a beginning from the middle (not too hard, but certainly time-consuming). If only my problems had ended with that.

    As I continued to write, I became distracted more frequently and as a result the coherence of the story fell apart. I still had faith that the core idea was something great, something unique, so I persisted. Naturally, my persistence was rewarded–with a quagmire of despair and confusion. Having failed to plot the course of my story or to create an outline (or anything I could refer back to for continuity purposes), the story kept taking twists and turns I’d not intended it to take. I spent much of my time just trying to make it all work together. Before long, the plot itself had become fluid and was moving from space to space within my head like some loathsome house pest seeking shelter from the light. One day I looked up from trying to piece my story back together for the thousandth time and realized I had two days left before the submission deadline.

    Needless to say, I didn’t make it.


    Relearning A Lesson, The Hard Way

    For as long as I can remember, I’ve always relied on a written plan of some sort to guide my writing. Outlines, plot-webs, popsicle stick thought-models, dioramas constructed from last night’s dinner, etc. I don’t know why I didn’t do one for this project. Perhaps part of me thought that we could just blast right through it all on pure inspiration. Or maybe I assumed that it was planned out in my head well enough that all I needed to do was to get it down on paper. Regardless, the whole experience reminded me that I need structure. Not a lot, just a little. A point of reference to help keep me walking in a straight line without veering off the path to eat things I find in the grass or to look at shiny objects.

    Naturally, I’m sore at myself over a lost opportunity. However, I’ve since created a thorough outline and gone over it with a few people I trust (to look for plot holes, inconsistencies, and so on). The story is more focused now and is coming together at a slower, but more effective pace than before.

    While it’s always good to experiment with new methods, it’s a bad idea to give up all methodology because you are “inspired” or in a hurry.


    While Josh Squires pays his bills by snagging marketing and advertising copy jobs from the internet, his real passion is writing fiction. He hold an Associate’s degree in English Literature and is completing a BA in English Lit. in his free time. Josh loves writing that is unconventional and offers something new or unexpected. His fridge is empty except for a case of High Life and some eggs.


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    Laura Roberts

    Josh, I’ve heard about people like you who get their best ideas in the shower… seeing that photo of someone writing underwater, I have to wonder why a waterproof paper and pen haven’t yet been invented to capture those notes! I used to hate outlines, too. I think maybe it was the way they were taught in school, all about rigid thinking and sentences that had to logically follow from a premise… but writing fiction isn’t like that, so outlining like that is more frustrating than helpful. I finally got hooked on outlining when I did the 3-Day Novel Contest… Read more »

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    I am one of those people. I’ve taken to keeping a pen and paper in the bathroom so I can scribble my thoughts as soon as the water stops running. Is that weird?

    Josh Squires

    Laura, thanks for that. I’ll definitely check it out. I’m really ADD and have a hard time focusing on one thing at a time anyways. Long tasks like writing really tax my focus. Outlines help, but like you said, I feel like they don’t work well with fiction. I’ll definitely check out the link you sent me.

    Justine, I keep a pen and pad with me everywhere except the bathroom. Perhaps its time I start.

    Would love your thoughts, please comment.x