The result showed our attention span has shrunk from 12 seconds to 8, making it shorter than a goldfish’s (nine seconds average).
Couple a shrinking attention span with unending distractions, it’s a wonder writers ever get words on the page. The holidays are upon us, providing even more distraction and writing time constraints. So what can writers do to find their focus?
Colleen M. Story, author of Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, suggests focus is a skill and, like all skills, it requires lots of practice to improve. She suggests writers start by making it easier for our writer brains to concentrate.
~Turn off smartphones, iPads, etc. and disconnect from internet and email
~Find a place to isolate yourself and post a do not disturb sign
~Use noise-cancelling headphones
~Jot down whatever errant thought that pops into your head and follow through later
~Keep a glass of water handy
She advocates two other ways to practice building our brain’s focus ability.
Meditation is an easy way to practice focus and ditch the bad habit of giving in to distractions. Studies backed by brain-imaging studies show it works.
- Delay impulses
Resist making a response to that incoming text or email for five minutes. If you’re chilly, wait five minutes before you reach for a sweater. If you want a snack, delay for five minutes. The more you practice delayed gratification the stronger your ability to focus quickly and for longer periods.
Our genres are different, but our process to a finished book is much the same. I also start with a seed. There’s no telling where a story idea will come from, but I rarely have a plan for the story. Except I do know there will be a satisfying ending.
I greatly admire those who can plot with colorful sticky notes and checkerboard graphics designating scenes. I envy the ones who know the percentage of each portion of three act structure or hero’s journey. I can’t do that hard as I try.
I begin with my happily-ever-after seed and watch it sprout and grow into a full-fledged story like a gardener. Sometimes I have to do a lot of pruning along the way to keep the story working. That is precisely what gardeners do for their plants.
If you’re a writer, what’s your writing process like? Do you garden or follow a blueprint?
These days we live in a fast-paced world. People can be impatient, especially about reading long-winded posts, emails, and texts. I’ve noticed that even fiction books seem to be shorter.
Our written communication should be clear and concise. Still, extra verbiage can slip in and most often, eliminating those words will not change the meaning.
How do we eliminate words that are simply filler that don’t add to the susbtance?
Personally, I use a weasel word list – an editing help I learned in a Margie Lawson editing workshop. It’s simply a list of words I know creep into my writing. Words like just, that, very, really, etc. Then, when I’m editing, I eliminate or replace those words.
Below is a great infographic that can help you catch extraneous words in your writing.
Who wants to suffer and be unhappy? I sure don’t.
But – reality is drama, though unwelcomed most of the time, is what life is all about.
Happy drama is a very different thing.
I love the drama our new Old English Sheepdog added to our world. If you’ve ever had a puppy, you can relate. He changed our lives dramatically while adding so much laughter and love.
As a writer, I have such a difficult time being hard on my characters. I don’t want them to suffer or be unhappy. Unfortunately, that makes for a dull, uninteresting story. Drama is an integral part of real life so fictional characters must suffer.
After attending the BONI Intensive Seminars where Donald Maass stresses Tension (drama) on every page to engage readers fully, I finally understood the need to create more suffering for my fictional characters.
Readers expect drama and want to become emotionally involved with our characters. When drama and suffering are absent, readers fail to connect with our characters. They won’t read our books.
If you need a nudge to add drama to your writing (as I did), let me suggest:
1. Read The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass
2. Attend a Breakout Novel Intensive Seminar
3. Visit One Stop for Writers website where you’ll find loads of resources like The Emotion Thesaurus
And, just for fun here’s some video inspiration on how to add drama to a dull scene:
A Guest Blog
Today I’d like to introduce a writer friend, who also happens to be a fabulous teacher and excellent editor—Alicia Rasley. She’s going to offer advice on how writers can decide which character’s POV to use.
All fiction books are written from a particular character’s perspective (POV). As readers, you probably aren’t aware of POV specifics, but we writers can struggle with it. That’s why I invited Alicia to help.
Thanks, Judythe, for inviting me to guest blog!
I know I’m not the only writer kind of obsessed with point of view, so I thought I’d talk about one aspect of POV — which character should narrate a particular scene.
Often this is an easy decision, but if you’re having trouble making the scene as dramatic or deep as you want, consider changing the point-of-view character.
Now there is no RIGHT answer to which character point-of-view to choose for any scene. It will vary depending on many factors, including the author’s own natural POV approach and of course the events of the scene.
But here are a few questions to help guide you in the choice. Each of these questions emphasizes a different approach to the scene. One might lead to a more action-oriented scene. Another might lead to an emotionally dramatic scene.
Let’s use as an example a hanging in some foreign land, a public execution of a man (call him Tom), with his wife there near the gallows (call her Sue). Very dramatic scene!
Whose head should we be in?
POV Choice Questions
Which character is there right now at the scene?
It’s often better to go with the eyewitness rather than the one who just hears about it later– the TV cameraman at the execution, not the anchorman back at the studio.
Which character has the most at stake externally?
The one in physical danger maybe? That would probably be Tom, the condemned man, about to be hanged, of course.
Which character has the most at stake internally?
Sue, who is watching the hanging despairingly from the crowd, knowing that her baby (due in three weeks) will never know its daddy?
Who has the most intriguing perspective, or will narrate the event in the most entertaining way?
Maybe the hangman? Or maybe Sue isn’t so despairing… maybe she’s furious at Tom and will be glad when he’s dead? <G>
Who will change the most because of this event?
Maybe the judge who condemned the man, as the hanging draws closer, comes to regret his vengeful decision, and decides that he’s got to save Tom. The judge might be a good POV character because we can participate in this great change.
Who is going to have to make a big decision or take a great action during this scene?
If Sue is going to storm the gallows, seize a sword, and cut Tom down, she might be the best POV character (then again, I’d love to be in Tom’s head as she comes charging up the steps and aiming that sword towards his neck… <G>).
Whose goal drives the scene?
Maybe Tom has decided to make a great emotional speech and rally the onlookers to riot and save him. He’s the one with the goal– good POV choice.
Whose got a secret and do you want the reader to know?
If Tom is actually an undercover superhero who can burn the noose rope with his x-ray eyes and fly away, but wants first to implicate the judge who condemned him, so he stands there patiently waiting for the hangman… it depends on whether I want the reader to know what he’s planning or his secret powers.
Yes, I want the reader to know, so I put the scene in his POV, and concentrate on how hard he has to work to keep the secret secret.
Or no, I don’t want the reader to know: I want the reader to gradually suspect, along with – or before– Sue and/or the judge, that there’s something a bit off about this guy and the way he keeps aiming his intense gaze up at the rope…. that might mean staying OUT of his POV.
Who is telling all already through dialogue and action?
If Sue is being completely open and upfront about what she’s thinking and how she’s feeling, why bother to go into her head? The judge or Tom might be a better candidate for our “mind-reading” then.
You can see that this is not a checklist– any one of these is sufficient to make a choice, and some are obviously mutually exclusive.
But you can also see how many different ways there are to analyze the choice, and it all boils down to:
What effect do you want to have on the reader in this scene?
And whose POV will best create that effect?
She also wrote a handbook on the fictional element of point of view: The Power of Point of View. She teaches writing at a state university and in workshops around the country and online.
Writing’s hard work. Ask any writer. Good writing is harder. Sometimes weasel words can slip in.
Weasel words are “favorite” words that pop up when a writer is being lazy or rushing.
I first heard the term in a workshop with Margie Lawson. She expanded weasel words to include phrases, overused word, throw-away words, clichés and opinion words that might draw a reader from the story.
Her solution is to keep a personal weasel word list for every manuscript and when you do the edits, remove the weasels.
Grammarly created this infographic of frequently overused words to help writers eradicate such words. Margie and I would call it a weasel word list.
A writing career has no policy and procedure manual, no checklist for success. Each day brings uncharted water.
The path to success can be an emotional roller coaster ride. Up one day. Downhill fast the next.
More than any other job, writers are in control of their destiny. At the same time, writers can be their own worst enemy. Unfamiliar with Pogo?
Pogo and his “swamp critter friends” are the anthropomorphic comic strip animals created by Walt Kelly in 1948. They philosophized and poked at social and political successes and follies in Kelly’s comic strip. Probably the most widely used Pogo quote is the one depicted in this poster from Earth Day in the 70s.
There are five traits, when exhibited, that can make a writer his own worst enemy. That’s why I dubbed them POGO traits.
- Too much time and energy focused on mimicking the writing and style of other authors.
The world already has Janet Evanovich, J.K. Rowling, Steven King, and Nora Roberts. Their success is their success.
You can’t copy and get there! Stop wasting your time.
- Preoccupation with following THE RULES.
Rules are very important. Absolutely.
Writing, on the other hand, is an art form that entails experimentation, innovation, and expansion. Once you have the basics down—things like POV, dialogue, setting, character, plot, theme, it’s time to trust your instincts and what works for your story.
- Buying into every new way to write or plot that’s suggested
Workshops, classes, and webinars are terrific for improving craft skills. BUT writing experts don’t always know what’s right for your writing process. Once you find the process that works best for you and your lifestyle, stick with it.
- An inability to take criticism or believing everything anyone says about your story
Either of these positions can be fatal. Admittedly, surviving a brutal criticism or review isn’t for the fainthearted. As a writer, you need elephant hide and keen discernment to see the opinions expressed for exactly what they’re worth.
It’s strong writers who survive…and often produce better stories from hard critiques or bad reviews.
- Not writing
The procrastination parasite bites us all from time to time. Whether moved by the muse or not, a professional writer goes to the keyboard or grabs a pencil every day.
Promotion, social media, and marketing do cut into writing time. All of that is important for developing reader relationships. Balance is the key because gaining readership (aka success) ultimately comes from writing the next story.
Do you see POGO traits in yourself? I admit I’m guilty of too many, too often.
I become my own worst enemy. Do you?
Our story worlds become tangible to us as writers. A video plays in our head as we write. We see the setting; we feel the emotions. Our characters become genuine people moving in an authentic world we’ve created.
Interruptions can happen. The telephone rings, a text comes in, or the doorbell rings. Distractions we choose to ignore or respond to.
If a reader is truly engrossed, they will return to the story world just as we return to our writing.
Not so if the writing itself causes the distractions. Then readers turn from explorers into critics or worse yet, quit reading.
Beth Hill (The Editor’s Blog) says “Interruptions from inside the story world become a part of that world and influence our [readers’] reactions to it.” She offers a list of fiction interrupters that writers should avoid.
These are the interrupters that jar me as a reader.
- Characters who speak like fictional characters rather than real people. Actors in old movies from the 40s and 50s used pseudo acting voices. Actors today don’t. Neither should our characters’ voices be false.
- Unnecessary character dialogue, i.e. characters sharing already known information or dialogue used simply as fill
- Contrived plot lines
- Deus ex machina endings or endings that don’t follow the story lines
- Leaving some story issues unresolved
- Characters who act in a ways not compatible with their established worldview or the story era
- Lack of character motivation for unexpected actions
- Too-stupid-to live characters who do senseless things or act in ways simply so the plot works out a certain way
- Failure to include setting references of time and place. Readers need to be grounded – who, what, when, where – at the beginning of chapters and scenes.
- Bad grammar, incorrect facts, inconsistent spelling, poor punctuation, preaching or teaching
- Lyrical or poetical writing that doesn’t match the story’s style, i.e. purple prose.
- Poor sentence structure or confusing words
You can find Ms. Hill’s blog about reader interruptions here. Her list is longer than mine, but neither list contains everything that can distract a reader from a story.
What pulls you from a story when you’re reading?
Grammarcheck.net recently posted this infographic of 21 frequently ignored (or unknown) grammar rules and writing mistakes that everyone who writes should know.
How many do you know? How many do you ignore?
I’m with them on all but the serial comma and semicolon. I only use a serial comma for clarity in my writing. And, I think the semicolon is too formal for my voice. I only add it when my copy editor insists.