The Two Most Powerful Behaviors of Successful Writers

City in TriangleThe thing about writers is that we are rarely working on just one project at a time. We’re writing our new book—the one we’re madly in love with and staying up late to scribble on—and we’re revising the manuscript we finished before that. We’re also working on a short story or two, maybe some poetry, and trying to journal every day. And blog posts…don’t forget about blog posts, or email, our social media presence and then, of course, there are all those books we need to read.

Writers are busy people.

This might be why every time I tweet something out about the evil internet being a huge time suck for writers, it gets retweeted through the roof. Because we already know how busy we are.

And we know that the very network that helps us move forward in our work and promote our career also has the power to zap our energy and steal our time.

But the internet doesn’t only affect us when we’re plugged in. It continuously immerses us in an energy of speed, distraction, and frantic urge that carries over into our real life, even when we’re offline. After being on social media for hours or skimming a pile of blog posts on writing, you might notice that you feel like you’re not writing enough pages, you’re not producing at a fast enough speed, and you don’t know enough about publishing.

These kinds of feelings drive us to consume more-and-more-and-more information, but more information is not always the answer.

The real solution for writers comes down to focus and boundaries.

Let’s begin with focus. You can start by picking one project and sticking with it for the long term. That might be one novel you’re writing, and you stick with it for eight months. Or it might be one short story, and you stick with it for the next week. Your focus is on just that one project, no matter how messy or difficult it becomes. You can take breaks, that’s fine. But focus means you come back to it. You stick with it, day after day.

After you pick your focus project, you introduce boundaries. That means when you’re working on that project you are only working on that project. You have the internet and your phone turned OFF. The door to your private space is CLOSED. The people in your life have been informed that you are UNAVAILABLE.

Boundaries can be tough to enforce at first, because the people around you aren’t used to them yet and your monkey mind wants to thwart your plans.

But enforcing your boundaries consistently will eventually train everyone on what to expect from you. Pretty soon all involved will understand that there is now an impenetrable fence built around your writing time.

Pick your project. Rope off your chunks of time for it. Build your fence and then enforce the boundaries.

Once you get experienced practicing with focus and boundaries, you won’t even be susceptible to the siren call of the internet anymore.

If you enjoyed this article you might want to check out:

5 Lies Writers Tell Themselves

5 Best Writing Prompts

The Real Reason You Can’t Stop Procrastinating

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10 Comments

  • Reply Christy Esmahan 6 August, 2014 at 9:21 am

    The boundaries thing is huge–you are so right! Thanks again for your great advice–I love reading your blog posts and I always find inspiration in your wise words.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 6 August, 2014 at 10:10 am

      Thanks Christy! I know it sounds like simple advice, but maintaining my focus and boundaries is actually one of the toughest parts of my writing life.

  • Reply Gisele LeBlanc 6 August, 2014 at 9:42 am

    Yep, yep, great advice, Lauren! I was nodding my head big time. I used to get antsy at the thought that there is so much information out there–what if I’m missing important posts? But we can’t read all the blog posts that are out there, so now I try to limit what I read, or at least be more discerning.

    I noticed that I used to read a lot of blog posts centered around self-doubt as a writer, until I realized that I’ve read so many of them, that now, they all pretty much say the same thing. So now, before reading shared posts that I come across, I ask myself, is this really a topic that I need to know more about in this very moment? I mean, there are only so many hours in the day after all!

    Of course, there are a few choice blogs that I keep up with on a regular basis, like yours for instance! 🙂

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 6 August, 2014 at 10:09 am

      Thank you Gisele! Glad I made the cut 😉

  • Reply Lori Robinson 6 August, 2014 at 10:13 am

    Wow, this was a bulls eye read for me. I blog, write and submit essays while writing a non-fiction book and a memoir. Enough said about how unfocused I can become. When I have so many options or choices of how to spend my time, I end up doing nothing. But all of the things I am working on have equal merit, for different aspects of my writing career so it is really hard to put everything but one project aside for months at a time. I am learning to focus each day on one project. Today maybe it’s my blog and tomorrow may be my memoir. It is not a perfect solution because my flow gets constantly interrupted. Thanks for the grist for the mill. Back to work now.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 6 August, 2014 at 4:14 pm

      One project a day is perfectly acceptable. As long as you’re working on one project at a time, for chunks of uninterrupted time, you’ve got it down!

  • Reply Kathy Palm 6 August, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Great post! Focus! I am the biggest procrastinator EVER. Boundaries… when my kids or hubs calls, I answer. *takes deep breath* *starts building walls*

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 6 August, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      Thanks Kathy 🙂 I’m pretty skilled at procrastinating myself. It must come with the territory of being a writer!

  • Reply hilarycustancegreen 8 August, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Great advice. It is almost a bad joke that my reaction was to think, that’s what I’ll do when I have got the current project out of the way…

  • Reply Birgitte Rasine 20 September, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    Lauren,

    Every word you write is true, painfully true, blissfully true. You’ve done writers a service with this blog—but not just writers, everyone else as well. What is true for writing, in this case, is true for (virtually) all professions.

    However the piece misses a fairly important point that the headline promises: the bit about “successful” writers. Focus and boundaries are the two things that successful writers employ in their work—but we don’t have examples of these successful writers, nor a clarification of how “success” is defined or is meant to be understood in the context of this post: successful as in prolific? Published? Popular? Wealthy?

    The examples don’t have to be famous authors; it can be a few writers you know or have heard about. But it would make your post a great deal more powerful if you could show just how implementing focus and boundaries does deliver “success” for the writers you choose to mention.

    All the best,
    Birgitte Rasine

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