Having natural talent helps when you want to be a writer. Reading, studying, learning about the craft—that helps too. Practicing is the absolute best thing you can do to improve your skill level. You also need self-mastery. If you can’t get yourself to sit down to write, you can’t write anything! But is getting into the chair really enough?
I’ve spent more time in my writer’s chair than I care to admit doodling, daydreaming, making to-do lists, and having my mind wander around topics that had nothing to do with what I was supposed to be writing. It took time and effort to build my ability to focus on each story. I also had to figure out what I needed to support that level of concentration while writing.
Getting away from external distractions is important for me to write. I can’t usually have music playing. A TV in the background will kill my word count. And being in a room with other people shuts me down. I make faces when I write. I cry, I laugh, I scowl. I need to be alone to feel comfortable enough to let the words flow. (I actually typed “worlds” just now, and almost left it 🙂 ). Anyway…
I’m constantly amazed at all the things I remember that I need to do when I’m sitting in front of a blank page, the cursor blinking like my inner critic tapping her foot. “Well? Where are the words, Cass?” My response is often, “Oh, hey. I need to do that load of dishes.” Or, “I haven’t talked to so-and-so, for a while. I should give them a quick call.” Sometimes it’s even, “I really need to clean out the linen closet.”
And I do. I need to do all of those things. But when I sit down to write, I need to write. That’s what I’m there for. Everything else has to take a back seat.
It’s harder than it sounds. And that’s why focus is so important for writing.
We need to be able to focus on our words—on our worlds. We need to have the self-mastery to say, “Not now. I’ll call/clean/whatever later.” And to actually follow through with that. We need to be able to keep our attention on our story, to follow our plot lines, keep our characters consistent.
Focus is a skill, and like every skill, it gets better with practice. It gets easier. As long as you put in the time.