Finding Focus #2--Bouncing off of Colleen's Post

When I finally logged back on here, I was glad to read Colleen's post about focus, as well as Kay's very honest and human response. Ironically, my new day job as a writing coach is all about helping writers focus and helping them find the right tools and rhythms for themselves. Because there's something dangerous about this writing life--the tendency to look over our shoulders at our neighbors, to compare not only the quality of our writing, but also the ways in which we work. All of that is fine if it helps lead us further down the path of our own development, but it's not good if it serves to distract or derail our focus.

So far there is no one program or one website that every one of my clients has loved, but I want to point you to a few that may help. As with everything in the writing life, your mileage may vary. Later in the week, I'll be sharing additional ideas about brainstorming and breaking through conceptual blocks in writing, but we'll start with these, which are targeted more towards the age old dictum of applying "butt to chair."

Programs and websites to help with focus

Write Or Die:
A program you can download that will beep and growl and do other bad things to you if your fingers leave the keyboard. I personally find this program a bit stressful, but some of my clients swear by it. Check it out and see if it works for you.

750 words:
NaNoWriMo word counts too high, but you still want to build up words? Try 750, based upon The Artist's Way premise of writing three "morning pages." You can use the site, which will track your words (and keep them private), for writing your novel, your blog post, your scholarly article, your journal, or just anything that comes to mind. The concept is to write 750 words of something every single day, and there's a whole community of writers assembled around this. is based on Francesco Cirillo's time management technique of working in 25 minute sessions that he calls pomodoros, or tomatoes. The website helps writers to time themselves as well as goes into the philosophy behind the method.

Instant Boss
Want to write in brief, timed sessions? Like the pomodoro method, but want to change it up and customize? Instant Boss will let you design your own writing and breaking intervals, so that you can have as long or short a writing session you like, and as many or as few different back to back sessions as works for you. This is a great way to experiment with finding the length of your ideal writing session, a concept encouraged by Eviatar Zerubavel in his book The Clockwork Muse. For instance, I always thought I was best writing in 90 minute or two hour chunks straight (with only the odd quick bathroom break), but I've found that working in 50 minute sessions, with no more than a 10 minute break between them, is perfect. Who knew? Some of my clients find that they are great if they do 20 or 25 minute sessions, while others still prefer the long session (90 minutes +). One thing I've learned is that this is one area where writers' preferences really vary. So play around and find your sweet spot, if you're lucky enough to have the time to experiment.

There are other websites out there, but these are the ones my clients tell me are the most helpful. Has anyone had any success with other websites or programs? What's your favorite motivational and/or focusing tool? What works for you?


Thanks so much for adding these, Kathryn.

Write or Die freaks me out, but I know others who swear by it, too. I may give it another try, along with the rest.

Glad to see you back on the blog. With my current deadline, I'm not able to post nearly as often as I'd like, and we've missed hearing from you.
Ha, glad I'm not the only "serious" writer who gets freaked out by Write or Die. I'm hard enough on myself without alarms sounding and colors flashing. ;)

That said, it really is all about what works for each person individually. I think that's the thing I've learned the most from doing the coaching, that there really are no dictums that work for everyone.

Glad to be back. I have a backlog of interviews to do too--have been putting them off until I could read/reread the people's books! But I'm going to try to get back into that slooooowly, while finishing this.

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