Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Successful Writers Can Focus No Matter What

A Christian speaker walked up the steps to the platform and across the carpeted flooring to a lectern. He bowed his head and prayed.

1. He prayed. 

The speaker then looked up at the audience, scanning the entire room to acknowledge everyone present.

2. He took notice of and demonstrated his consideration of each person in the audience.

A few men and women in the audience sipped from coffee cups, others fumbled for paper or pen, a few more checked their cell phones. Of course some pulled out their candy and unwrapped the cellophane while others whispered continuing the conversation with their neighbor which started before the speaker stepped to the platform. 

All the while, the speaker smiled and shared one of those: "There once was a..." stories. Instantly, chatting stopped, rustling for pens, papers, and candy ceased, and whispered conversations ended mid sentence. The speaker had hooked their interest with his anecdote. What a sharp contrast.

3. To lasso the attention of potential listeners/readers, he started with a stimulating hook.

The speaker moved on from his opening to the presentation. Most of the people sat on the edge of their seats fully engaged. But there was a baby in the back of the room. She obviously didn't care about the words and expressed her opinion openly. The caregiver must have done something for the baby to bring comfort because the crying stopped--for a short time 

Some of the listeners in the audience looked back at the baby. It couldn't be helped, they were curious. Others held a staunch stance, keeping their heads forward. Chances were good their attention had slipped to the baby, too. The little one expressed her discomfort several times during the presentation, and even though a nursery lay a few feet from the room, the mother continued to try different ways to comfort the child. 

The one person who did not waver, who kept steadfast and focused on the presentation--was the speaker. 

He didn't pause or stutter, fumble or loose concentration. He used arm motions to produce emphasis and threaded appropriate jokes as he had in previous presentations. If someone asked him after the presentation if he'd heard the baby, he'd probably look surprised and say, "What baby?"


Let's place the writer in the role of this speaker and consider a few things.

1. A successful writer is focused on their story and ignores exterior sounds. This does not mean ignore your family or other important tasks. Remember we are in the shoes of this speaker; the baby was not his child. The presentation was his and he had a job to give the ideas to the audience.

What distractions do we have that are likened to this scenario?

*Easy ones you already know are social media, and any other "something shiny" things that pull us away from a deep relationship with our story's presentation. 

*Doubt - my story can't possibly work this way, I need to change it. Be careful, changing a story is not like cleaning a house. It may not improve the work. It may take away your voice. On the other hand, if you do make a major change, doubt could creep in and cause you to return to the lesser product. Stand confident in your decision and move forward.

*Comments - crit partners, friends, and judges have the best intent. At times their recommendations will altar a portion of the story so much the foundation crumbles. The only one who can really know if a major change should be made is you, the writer. What is the premise of your story? Write that short sentence on a sticky note and affix it to your computer. Stay true to the premise.

2. A successful writer's focus is proven with a passion communicated with all senses. The speaker used his arms, moved about the platform, and changed the inflection of his voice to match the points, never wavering even during all the distractors.

How can we communicate a passion for the premise and story?

*Edit!:   A well-crafted story is like a finely tuned orchestra. No one hears (read) problems that aren't there. The writer's words melt like cotton candy and leave a savory taste in the readers mind and heart. 

*Complete:  A fantastic book is like a Rembrandt painting where every centimeter of paint is specifically designated to portray a vivid portion of the overall canvass, using color to stimulate the mind. A fantastic book is like a masterpiece symphony containing contrasting movements, featured instrumental sections, rises and falls, cymbal crashes and serene flute solos, using sound to create an experience to change a soul. A well-crafted story weaves subplots and layers, knitting words into a fabric so strong the emotional impact can not be forgotten.

*Emotion:  A well crafted story will contain words, phrases, scenes that elicit a response from the reader. I've laughed out loud, grabbed a tissue, and shouted at characters in books I've read. You too? What component in that book caused you to respond that way? If a reader will outwardly respond to a book, they are more likely to remember and recommend the book. Be sure to include sparks of humor, tear jerking scenes, victorious moments, and etc. Get the reader off the couch and inside the pages. 

3. A successful writer's focus is proven by casting aside fears.  The speaker freely presented complicated information to deepen the listener's understanding. Despite the distractions in the audience, he forged ahead and gave the information then explained the concept with such clarity that everyone in the room could understand. 

How can writers set aside their fears?

*Tackle the difficult.  If your story requires addressing a difficult topic: 

  First, research authors who have successfully done so to be sure you want to include the scene you are considering. (Francine Rivers, Terry Blackstock, Mary DeMuth are a few Christian authors who have successfully addressed difficult topics)

  Second, pray, 

  Third, research current information on the topic, 

  Fourth, write the section, 

  Fifth, have an expert in the field check your portrayal for accuracy.

*Tackle the complicated. Go ahead and use appropriate foreign language phrases you know. Be sure to include context clues or dialogue with characters explaining the meaning. Go ahead and include a complicated concept. We all like to learn. Teach us through the story. Dan Walsh and Gary Smalley in their book, The Dance, masterfully wove counseling steps into a dance lesson. As fiction writers we need to teach in creative ways. 

*Tackle the unusual. Go ahead and use the setting you have in mind. Take the reader to a new place or refurbish an old place. Let your characters walk into places that challenge them. Jim Rubart successfully did this in his book Rooms. As long as the story flows, and the reader is convinced there is a plausibility, move forward.

At the end of the speaker's presentation I felt awestruck. Unknowingly I wrote pages of notes during the talk about the topic  and about the speaker's ability to remain focus on the presentation from the first word to the last.

What else can we do to help ourselves remain focused on our WIP?
What author/book is a good example of staying true to their premise?


How do successful writers focus on their work? Join us at the the Writer's Alley for tips! Click to tweet

Distractions keeping you from your work? Sharing tips on the Writer's Alley. Click  to tweet.

photo courtesy of

This blog post is by Mary Vee

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes contemporary and romance Christian fiction and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter


Mindy Obenhaus said...

Oh, boy. You have no idea how much I needed this today. Thanks.

Mary Vee Writer said...

You are so welcome, Mindy. Thanks for joining us today.

Jeanne Takenaka said...

Mary, wonderful post! Staying focused on my sip in summer with kids home has been a challenge. I appreciate your perspective here today, and the way you've made me think about eliminating distractions and keeping my eyes on the main thing.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks, Jeanne.
There are many distracters in our life. Some need our urgent focus, some can wait. The hard part is know which to do.

Joanne Sher said...

Oh, Mary - this is SO good! Absolutely, POSITIVELY needed this. Excellent.