Staying Focused To The End

You’re working on a novel. It’s almost finished, but it’s taken a lot longer than you expected. The novelty of the thing wore off months ago. Now you’re faced with the hard work of finishing it.

Then along comes a contest that requires you write something new. Is it okay to set the novel aside and write something for that contest, or should you ignore that new thing?

The answer isn’t the same for all writers.

The answer may not even be the same from one circumstance to the next. So how do you make what could be a tough a call?

For me, focus isn’t something that just happens; it’s a discipline. The closer I get to The End, the more discipline is required.

When I’m in the throes of finishing any big project (novel, painting, trip, move, you name it), all kinds of things draw my attention away from the task at hand.

The more exciting other opportunities look, too.

So I ask myself these questions.

Is the opportunity a good fit for my style of writing and skill level? If it’s a short story opportunity, will that fit with my long-story personality? If it’s not, then it’s probably not a good idea to set aside the current work-in-progress to tackle this new opportunity.

How much time is involved? Can I take advantage of the opportunity in fifteen minutes or less or will I have to spend hours on it? This varies project to project and author to author. A good rule of thumb (for me) is that if I have something that’s ready to go or nearly ready to go and I can enter the contest or send off the story in fifteen minutes or less, then do it. If it’s going to take hours or days to get something ready and submitted, then I’ll skip it.

Can I use something I’ve already written or do I need to write something from scratch? Do I have a story or excerpt that fits the contest guidelines? Are the first five or ten pages or the first chapter of my current work-in-progress polished enough to use? If so, this might be an ideal time to get valuable feedback.

If, on the other hand, I have to stop writing and start editing, it’s probably better to let the contest slide. If it’s an annual event, make a note of it on next year’s calendar and shoot for that.

Will the idea or opportunity advance my writing career? There are all kinds of writing opportunities out there. Too many for any author to enter them all even if that’s the only thing they do 24/7/365.

One of the first ways to sort through them is to know what you want to accomplish with your writing. For example, if you want to be a world renown fantasy writer, then entering short stories in a contest geared toward women’s fiction probably isn’t going to help you.

Do I really want to take advantage of the opportunity or am I really looking for an excuse not to do the hard work on the current novel? This question is usually the most important. This is where the rubber meets the road for me as a writer and possibly for you, too.

You see, if all you’re looking for is an excuse not to do something else, then there isn’t sufficient reason to do the new thing. The new thing is a distraction, a stall tactic, an excuse… a means of work avoidance. Anytime you answer ‘yes’ to this question, you need to drop everything you’re doing and get back to work on that novel!

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