15
13
Gini Dietrich

Advice from Authors on Focusing at Work

By: Gini Dietrich | November 6, 2012 | 
55

As many of you know, I’m in the middle of National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo) and, as of this writing, I have more than 10,000 words written.

I thought writing a novel wouldn’t be a big deal. I do, after all have a published book (cough, Marketing in the Round, cough) and I write here every, single day. I even spent three months outlining the book (which is allowed as long as you don’t write any words) and I told myself I’d just get up an hour earlier every day and write.

And that’s exactly what I’ve done.

I’ve even been keeping pace with my friends who are also participating via Facebook and Twitter. It’s been fun. But it hasn’t been easy.

I got six chapters in when, on Saturday, I decided it was all wrong and had to start over.

The image you see on this blog post is the notebook full of my notes, the outline, the characters (or xters as my college creative writing professor used to call them), and even a timeline of the past 45 years so everything makes sense chronologically.

But I’d already written 5,500 words. And I had to start over. The plot didn’t change so I was able to use some of the words I’d already written. I just wanted to change the voice and there were already some inaccuracies that I needed to fix. And, well crap, I’m a perfectionist and it’s really hard to write without editing yourself!

Fiction vs. Business

But writing fiction is a lot different than writing a business book. You are completely immersed in your story and time has no bounds.

I looked up Sunday morning and three hours had gone by. Right now I’m writing about something that happens in the middle of the night so I was alarmed to see the sun was shining and people were outside walking down the street with their dogs and kids.

It’s a completely different experience and I wondered, aloud to Mr. D, how I was going to make it the rest of the month.

Advice from Authors

Then Mitch Joel’s Six Links Worthy of Your Attention arrived in my inbox and, in it, was a New York Times article with some advice from authors.

It was written with advice on avoiding online distractions while you write and it quotes four business book authors and one novelist (David Carr).

It’s a good piece to read if you’re constantly barraged with distractions from email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest (couch, cough), Letterpress, Words with Friends, Path, the phone, and more.

Some people turn off the Internet entirely, some going as far as turning off the WiFi.

That wouldn’t work for me because I need the web to fact check, link to other articles, and find inspiration. But I do turn off everything else. And I write while the rest of you are sleeping (which is a lot easier now that Daylight Savings Time has ended).

But what I found most interesting is what David Carr says:

For months, I worked on my book late at night after work, but that will only get you so far. Eventually, I went to a cabin in the woods, yes, that had no Internet. It did have dial-up access, which is like having no Internet at all. Things moved very quickly after that. I sat in a room full of books, read some of them, stared at others, but mostly tried to work on my own. I slept, wrote and ate in the same room. That way, when I woke up, there was only the book; when I went to sleep, there was only the book. I put my notes up in sequence around the room, and when I finished with this action, I would take them off the wall. Eventually, the walls were empty, and the book was done.

I don’t know if I have any dates I can take off in November to finish writing this book, but if I do NaNoWriMo next year or if any of you are participating, it’s not a bad idea to try.

What tips do you have for writing a novel while working full-time?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

55 comments
EricTaubert
EricTaubert

@samfiorella @ginidietrich This was a gem of a post...thanks for sharing...

penneyfox
penneyfox

I wish I could do NaNo so good luck with that book! I did give myself a mini-challenge of 250 daily words this month. This felt more like something I could handle. I'm hoping to join you next year for the NaNo so keep us posted.

BTW - loved this article and will be pinning it to my Blogging a Book board :)

MacLeanHeather
MacLeanHeather

@ginidietrich Thanks for this. I am loving following your adventure.

KateFinley
KateFinley

It was nice to read this, Gini. I've changed my plot several times. Ever since I jumped in for the fun of it on Nov. 1, I've been having a harder time with it than I've had fun with it to be honest. BUT I am determined to push through (though I was considering giving up.) I only have 4,000 words so far but I'm going to keep plugging away ... I'm a perfectionist too and it's hard not to think about what others will think of my idea and how it plays out. I think I just have to write for me and shut everything else out.

 

I really like your cover by the way!

bradmarley
bradmarley

I have two kids who go to bed no later than 7:30, so I can't do any writing until they are asleep. (I can't wake up early. I just can't. My body won't let me.) And since this NaNoWriMo challenge project is the longest thing I've written since my last college paper, I have to set time aside and just start writing.

 

The fact that one of the "rules" is not to edit is actually working in my favor, because, at this point, I'm just spewing language. I mean, I know how it starts and I know how (and why) it ends. But the middle is a mystery. Every day I learn something knew about the characters. :)

 

Oh, to answer your question: I have to figure out how many words I need and I reserve one to two hours. I told my wife that I was doing this and she respects the time when I sit down after the kids are sleeping. As a matter of fact, I walked out of my daughter's room last night and she was on the laptop. She looked at me and said, "Oh, you probably need to use this." It was a great moment.

 

p.s. Writing w/o an outline is so much more adventurous.

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes

I just write. I carve out time in my day and do my best to put down as many words on paper/screen as I can within the time I have for writing.

 

If I really need to focus I put on my headphones and turn on one of the playlists I have built for writing and start pounding it out.

 

I see it as being similar to working out. When it is going well I get an adrenaline rush out of it and when it is not I just grind it out.

Erin F.
Erin F.

I've sometimes thought about using NaNoWriMo for a poetry project, but I just don't have the time (really!) with a full-time day job and trying to make a go of Write Right. Write Right isn't all that different, though. I work on it when I get home from work and most weekends. I set deadlines and turn off the phone and internet as best I can while I'm working on projects.

 

As for advice, I constantly turn to Annie Dillard's The Writing Life and Richard Hugo's The Traveling Town. Dillard, too, talks about a cabin.

Latest blog post: How Blogging is Like Baking

katskrieger
katskrieger

 @ginidietrich I'm very envious of you and the others participating in NaNoWriMo. It has been getting in my brain though and reminded me of a lost novel I have somewhere in my files from college. It's a bit trashy to be sure, but it would be fun to dig out and make a go of it, xx number of years later. :-)

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @penneyfox I think I would really be struggling with it if I hadn't thought all the way through the book before I started writing. The only thing I'm having trouble with right this second is having to jump forward a few years and I haven't figured out how to make that transition yet.

 

But writing every day has certainly helped prepare me. That's what'll keep you going next year!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@MacLeanHeather Ah you are much too kind. Thank you!

KateFinley
KateFinley

Oh and I think I need to start rewarding myself with fruit and dark chocolate and maybe some wine :)

KateFinley
KateFinley

 @bradmarley I like what you're saying about knowing the beginning, end and letting the rest be a mystery. Great way of looking at it!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @bradmarley I laughed out loud at this: Every day I learn something knew about the characters. 

 

It's so true! The same for me. In fact, I thought I was going to tell the story from one character's point of view and decided that wasn't going to work and developed another character to tell the story. It is kind of fun!

amysept
amysept

@ginidietrich Loved your comment about writing on Sunday morning; being immersed in your own world is magical!

amysept
amysept

@ginidietrich I always find it hard to get the Little Editor to shut up -- which can really impact the word count!

amysept
amysept

@ginidietrich Every year I want to do it, and every year other stuff gets in the way. I have a story idea for this year, but haven't started

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @katskrieger You should! You could even do it now, as we're only six days in. But definitely consider it for next year.

penneyfox
penneyfox

 @ginidietrich  Thanks for getting back to me about your writing. I must say --- I'm a marketing person and I click over here to see the PR look at social media topics BUT when you post about yourself personally, it's very encouraging to me (and I would suspect others). My favorite post of yours is when you shared what your morning was like and how you got everything done. Every morning I think to myself, it's 7am and I'm getting my kid ready for school - by this point Gini has written her blog posts AND scheduled her tweets/FB posts to promote it AND she's already at work. 

 

I appreciate your insights when you're able to pull back the curtain for us a bit and learn more about how you do all this :)

bradmarley
bradmarley

 @ginidietrich I just realized I wrote I learn something "knew." Ugh. There goes my credibility.

Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes
Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes

 @ginidietrich  I have learned how to work with/through almost anything. Sometimes music is like white noise for me that I use to help me concentrate, but there are moments where I prefer silence.

 

For example I am working on a post about election and presidential benefits and it is making me a bit crazy. That is because I am reading through all sorts of spreadsheets and budgetary documents.

 

Good old Excel, sometimes I hate spreadsheets.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@amysept It's SUPER hard! I am learning that lesson right now. You just have to write. The editing happens later.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@amysept You still have time! We're only technically five days in. You should do it!

Erin F.
Erin F.

 @ginidietrich I wish I could retreat to a cabin for a month. I have so many ideas and projects requiring attention that it isn't even funny.

 

Are you going to use Scrivener at some point? I like to work on paper, but I played with Scrivener when I created a short manuscript of poems.

Latest blog post: How Blogging is Like Baking

katskrieger
katskrieger

 @ginidietrich I think it would be cheating...if memory serves I had quite a bit written already, but I guess I could use it as a outline/starting point for something new. I just need to find the hard drive its saved on. It's seriously so old. 

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @penneyfox You are too funny! I don't have kids so it doesn't quite compare. If I did, the mornings would be spent getting them off to school, not writing. It's one sacrifice I'll have to make when the little buggers come along.

amysept
amysept

@ginidietrich In my NaNo moments, I've found Word Wars to be helpful, too. Find a buddy, set a timer (10 mins), see who writes the most!

amysept
amysept

@ginidietrich I've thought about it, but can't even start until later this week at the earliest. #deadlines I may try to catch up, tho!

TonyBennett
TonyBennett

@belllindsay @ginidietrich It's a Ginibot 2.0 comprised of titanium alloy with a top secret apple processor

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

 @katskrieger I don't think it's cheating because you'd probably have to do a lot of rewrites.