For the past couple years, I’ve tried to come up with one word or phrase that could capture my focus for the coming year. In 2016, it was “completion.” I wanted to complete the draft of the novel I was working on. And I did that, although in 2017 I ended up setting it aside when it was no longer working. That is somewhat related to my goal for 2017, which was “embrace rejection.” By that, I meant I wanted to submit my work frequently and broadly, with the full knowledge that it would be rejected more often than it was accepted. As it turned out, I could have done a better job of that, but I did my best.
Last year came with its fair share of opportunities and challenges, chief among the latter being depression and time, or rather the lack thereof when it came to time. (I had plenty of depression, thanks very much.) As I may or may not have mentioned, after a couple years of freelancing and living very hand to mouth, I took a full-time job last year. While that came with a lot of benefits—health insurance, steady income, less of a persistent fear that I was going to starve or die—it also meant that from eight thirty to five fifteen every weekday, my time was not my own (and continues to not be my own). I’ve been trying to get a handle on the hours outside of that window, and figuring out how to maximize as much of that time as possible in the service of my writing. This is an ongoing process.
I didn’t make a lot of progress on my major projects last year: a novel, a raft of short stories, a community-based writing project that I’d really like to kickstart. Given all that, the keyword for 2018 was obvious:
If I’m going to get anything done, I can’t try to Do All the Things, as much as I might like to. I have to choose one or two things at a time and dedicate myself to getting them done. I need to eliminate distractions, set aside projects or obligations that don’t move the primary goals forward.
Really, I don’t think this is terribly unique to me. We live in an extremely distracted and distractible culture (at least, we do here in the West, or at least in the West of My Imagination; I hesitate to generalize beyond my own experience). So, how am I going to try to cultivate focus?
Say no. Early. And often.
I’m hoping this will be the most effective tool in my kit to help me maintain focus. If a request or an opportunity is related to my primary focus, then absolutely I’ll say yes. Everything else? Nope.
Gather as much time as possible.
My time is so fragmented right now. Here’s a weekday example: I get up, take care of the dog, wait for my partner to get ready before we go to the gym, get home, get ready for work, drive to work, and have half an hour or twenty minutes to sit and gather myself before I have to clock in to the day job. Break for lunch, maybe spend some of that time (trying to) write, then it’s back to my desk for another four hours before driving home, making dinner, and “hey hon, wanna watch something on TV?” (Yes, I would. No, I shouldn’t. But I usually do.)
I need to rearrange my schedule to gather as many of the free fragments as possible so that I can spend them writing. And I’m going to have to learn to be ruthless with prioritizing what I do with those fragments.
What I’m Going to Focus On
As far as what I want to achieve with this focus, the first thing is to finish revising Harvest, the novel I started in grad school that became my graduate thesis. I need finish this or let it go and move on to something else. And believe me, I have lots of ideas for what’s coming next.
I’m also going to focus on submitting more. Somewhat related to last year’s goal of embracing rejection, I want to submit on average at least once a month. And somewhat related to that is to finish more short stories. I have six that I can send out now, and at least that many more in various states of revision. To have the best chance at getting stories accepted, I have to chase rejection more. And to do that, it would help to have more candidates for rejection.
One of the things I started doing late last year, writing more flash fiction, is going to help with that pursuit. I joined a Facebook flash fiction group more as a diversion than anything else, but it’s been extremely motivating for me to start and finish something on a weekly basis. I’ve posted some of them here on my website, but a handful I’ve shared only with the group, because I think I might want to try polishing them and sending them out.
So that’s my plan. What’s yours?