Sunday, April 17, 2011

How I Stay Focused--Guest Blog from @GP_Aldrich

How do I stay focused and block time to write?

My motto is “always writing”, because that keeps me focused. But there’s more than just those two words to staying focused and blocking out time to write.

A long time ago I noticed that I was flitting from writing project to writing project to some other project. I lacked focus, I needed something to keep me on point. I found it by looking at the big picture and then cutting it down to those two words.

Let’s start at the time. At the begging of every quarter I decide on two projects. That means on the 1st of January, April, July and October, I pick two projects. Read that again, TWO, is not TWENTY or even three. Just two projects. I don’t waver for that quarter. I am working on one of those two projects.

If I can’t work on the main project, meaning there’s a part of the story I want to think about more, or maybe there’s something that stops me from working on it, then I can branch over to focus on project two. Since there is no project three, I have to work on one of these two.

In my case my two projects this quarter are a murder mystery and promoting my writing. I think this guest blog post is evidence enough that I am working on project two. Project one is coming along fine as well, you just can’t see it.

As most creative people do, I have my doubts, what if I pick the wrong two projects? I don’t let that even enter my thoughts, because I am focused on COMPLETING these projects. The project is not to test to see if this is a good concept, but rather the project is to write the story. I can make the re-writing, or editing, or throwing on the trash heap, of this quarters project, a project for NEXT quarter.

Focus on those two projects, not the doubts or concerns.

OK, now we have two projects. How do we block out time? First of all, I have dirty dishes in my sink. I’m a single guy and as long as they aren’t stinking or making little science experiments, the dishes can wait. They wait because my focus is writing, and I have two projects. But life is busy. We can’t just drop everything to write. My method is to set a mini-project when I know I have another task to accomplish.

When I walk my dog, I am thinking about character background. I could be thinking about work, or family, or the dishes in the sink, but I set a goal for the walk. At the end of the walk I will know more about my main character.

If I am awake, I know I can be writing because I set these mini goals.

Let’s talk about actually sitting down and putting words on paper, or screen as the case may be. I have been setting these mini goals ever since the last time I was in from of my computer, I know what will happen next in the story, what the dialog is, how the setting will change, it’s just a matter of typing it. Think about it, is the act of typing, writing? No. Writing is the creation of the story and therefore doesn’t require paper, only your active imagination. By the time I get to the typing part, the story is flooding out my fingers. That makes those short times I can block out, highly productive.

I don’t believe there is a writer out there who sells his first draft. I think the first draft is a mental dump of everything the writer thinks should be there. I don’t worry about rules, or if my grammar is perfect. I set all of that aside to let the story flow. My project for the quarter is to get it all out, not to get out only the good parts. Open the dam, watch the water flow.

Wrapping it up: “Always writing” means set the big project, the mini goals and set the rules aside as your imagination flows. And it WILL flow because you’re focused on this project for the next 90 days.

G.P. Aldrich lives with his dog Carmen, in San Francisco California.

You can find him on Twitter @GP_Aldrich, that is, when he’s not writing.

His blog can be found at:


  1. You are very on the mark with this one, G.P. One of the things I took away from 15 years in Corporate America was the practice of setting concrete, realistic goals. It's the only way to know where you're headed and when you get there. Great, great practice for anything in life, IMO. And I think you do well to set only 2. I set 8 or 10 which doesn't make any sense. Two makes sense.

  2. Hi Melissa,

    Thanks for the comment. What kicked it into overdrive for me was not only cutting down the number of projects, but adding the time limit of one quarter. When I started doing that, it stopped me from changing to new projects like a hummingbird. I lost track of the number of times I said to myself: "Ah, good idea, but I'm focused on these two projects for this quarter. I'll think about that one for next quarter."

    It keeps me both focused AND committed.

    Keep writing!


  3. I'm struck by your approach of choosing two projects and sticking with them. It made me reflect, and I realized I have at least three (or more) creative projects in the works right now, and I feel there's always one being neglected. You've given me something to reflect on, thank you.


  4. Hi Patrick,

    Don't get me wrong, I have a ton of ideas for projects, I keep a list of them as they come up. And the end of the quarter I look at the list, and decide which two will be my main focus for the next quarter. I find that more than two is distracting, and one isn't enough.

    It came down to how many projects I could FINISH, not how many I could work on at once.


  5. Thanks for sharing this article. I struggle with focusing all the time as a writer. It's so hard when you have so many ideas. Very informational!

    -Nicole Alicia

  6. Hi Nicole,

    I had the EXACT same struggle. I still let the ideas flow, I make a list of them for the next quarter, that's how I stay focused on the one idea.