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Focus On One Writing Project Until You’re Done

by Jennifer on September 15, 2009

By Jennifer Blanchard

Yesterday on Zen Habits, Leo Babauta wrote a post called, How Simplicity Can Help Creativity, Briefly. In this post, he listed 11 ways simplicity can solve the problems you have with creating.

Number five is a-typical advice, but dead-on. Especially for beginning writers or writers who really struggle to finish their writing. Babauta advised:

“Focus on one project till you’re done,” he says. “This goes against how most people work, and in fact I have a hard time doing it sometimes, as I get excited about several projects at once. But it’s how I’ve been working recently and I can tell you, there’s no better way to create. Clear everything else off your schedule, at least for the moment, and focus on one project. Keep the focus small, so the project doesn’t take more than a week (if it does, break it into more than one project). Then just focus on that one project, until you’re done. It feels great. Now move on to the next.”

In previous posts, I’ve advised writers to change their projects up to avoid boredom. I still fully support this idea as a way to keep things fresh.

But I also believe that it’s important for you to do what works for you.

So I think you should give focusing on one writing project at a time a chance. Here are the benefits of doing so:

  • You’ll feel less overwhelmed–Sometimes writers–and especially beginning writers–take on more than they can really handle at one time. And being overwhelmed often leads to procrastination.
  • You’ll feel like you accomplished something–Oftentimes, when you take on too many projects at once, it feels like you’re never really getting anything done. When you focus on one project, you see results quicker.
  • You’ll learn to find inspiration in other places–Focusing on several projects at one time can lead to new ideas. But there are other ways to get inspiration besides starting another project. Take a walk. Paint a picture. Listen to some rock music. Anything can spark creativity.
  • You’ll be a stronger writer–Keeping your focus on one project for an extended period of time can be hell, I’ll give you that. But it can also teach you many valuable lessons, including how to stick with a project until the very end. And that lesson is priceless. Especially if you plan to make a career of writing.

Do you focus on one project at a time? Why or why not?

About the Author: Jennifer Blanchard is founder of Procrastinating Writers. Be sure to follow her on Twitter.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Larry September 16, 2009 at 12:47 pm

Mentioning Leo’s piece on simplicity reminded me of something that applies to your topic here, Jennifer. It’s called “simplicity on the other side of complexity,” and once you get your head around it, it becomes wildly liberating. Especially for procrastinating writers.

This approach recognizes that what seems complex to some is simple to others. Or better, what USED to be complex for us is no longer complex, by virtue of having lived in the moment, swam in the swamp and emerged with a clearer understanding of what it all means.

All things have structure and order at their heart, even chaos. This is especially true for writers block and stories that get out of control. The value here is to immerse yourself in the struggle and search for — and find — that ultimate sense of order that resides at the root of things. It’s as easy as declaring that chaos will not win, YOU will win. Instantly, even through the foggiest of complexities, things start to seem simpler. We understand what to discard, ignore and devalue — the very stuff of complexity — and can then focus on the sweet spots that yield productivity and quality.

A little on the zen side, I grant you, but when applied as a “way of working,” it can do wonders. Thanks for all your wonderful content, Jennifer. Hope all is well in your world.


2 jennifer blanchard September 16, 2009 at 4:48 pm

@Larry This is a very interesting way of looking at things! It sounds like something I need desperately to apply to my writing (and my life, for that matter). I’m slowly starting to realize that simplicity really does make things a lot easier to handle.

Thanks for sharing this with us, Larry. I appreciate it 🙂

3 Stormy September 16, 2009 at 5:18 pm

I do tend to focus on one project at a time. I think that by not getting distracted by other things and losing focus, you can get deeper into a writing project instead of just scratching the surface every time you pull it out for a few minutes. Great advice here!

4 Alex Fayle | Someday Syndrome September 17, 2009 at 1:45 am

I tend to keep moving forward slowly on a bunch of projects then when one is coming to an end I so a push and get it done, like the last stretch in a marathon – you speed up your pace because you can see the finish line.

5 Brittany September 17, 2009 at 7:47 pm

I have at least three or four writing projects that I started and then stopped. Some I got pretty far in, most I didn’t. Now, I’m trying to focus on one at a time. The reason I don’t finish is probably because the story/plot isn’t meaty and good enough to work with, or because I simply don’t care about the story.

With my current WiP, I’ve finally found an idea that I love, and that I’m thinking about turning into a series/trilogy, or at least writing a sequel. I don’t know how I found the perfect idea for me, but now I’m 18k in, and I haven’t even thought about giving up.

6 kim anh December 10, 2010 at 8:41 pm

Today is a day holiday. I do not want what to do because I am missing my family. I only want to go back home but may home is too far. I thik that I have not been talent for anything yet. However, I really like writing anything but my English is not enough for writing, so I attention this program for improving skill writing E nghlish. Could you help me, please?
Thanks so lot!

7 Lisa-Marie Dutt June 2, 2012 at 1:48 pm

I have always tried to focus on one project alone, but the moment I come across new and interesting ideas that couldn’t possibly fit into the story I am currently working on, it is left behind to begin another. In the past I have found the time and inspiration to go back and continue with those pieces that were left behind, but lately I just can’t seem to focus my attention on even one story. I believe I’m going through writers block, as much as I hate the term and rarely use it. At this very moment I have a total of four or five stories that are each halfway through and it’s so troublesome. I don’t know how I’m going to make it work, but this is a very helpful article so I’ll take note.

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