Tina Wainscott

Irons in the Fire

by Robin Bayne

Imagine. . . You are working feverishly on a novel, and in your snail mail comes an invitation to submit to an anthology for charity. You put your novel aside and write a short story. After that’s submitted, you dash off a piece on a local book signing for your writer’s organization, then spot a new online publisher who is seeking novellas to launch an inspirational imprint. You start drafting a 30,000 word story, meanwhile still thinking about your novel there on the back burner.

You send off some of the poetry you wrote a few years ago to a new Christian web site … then get back to your novel … until you get an e-mail message calling for partial manuscripts in a sub-genre you don’t usually write, and you decide to whip up a synopsis and three chapters.

Do you wonder then how to get re-involved in your story, how to get reacquainted with your characters and their lives? Is it difficult to revive the passion you had for your plot? How many times do you have to start over because you lost focus?

If this sounds like you, you may be a writer with too many irons in the publishing fire. You need to narrow it down; narrow the scope of your writing activities. To bring things into perspective, consider the following:

  • Do you work a full time job? How much time do you actually have to write? If it’s limited, would it be better for you to restrict yourself to one project at a time? Only you can decide.
  • Are you still interested in your novel? It’s said that if a project doesn’t hold the author’s interest, it probably won’t hold anyone else’s, either. Analyze what you’ve done so far. Do you still care what happens to these characters? Is it worth your time to finish this story?
  • Are you overly impatient to be published? Articles on writing tell you to always have something in the mail, and that individual rejections don’t sting as much if you know you still have other pieces out there under consideration. But how many is too many? Does this practice rob you of precious time with your favorite project?
  • Perhaps most important: Which project is most in line with your ultimate goal, and which will help you move forward in a five-year plan? Do you want to be a novelist? A poet? A journalist? Are you putting together a book of devotions?

Identifying Time-Guzzlers

On an e-mail listserv discussion, a writer recently commented that she felt a need to respond to every new writing opportunity that came her way. To never miss a chance to get published. Her novel in progress was suffering as a result, but she couldn’t escape the excitement of something new right around the corner, just beyond her grasp. And to a point, she’s right. Luckily her critique buddies advised her to focus on what was most important to her, and dedicate herself to that project.

Even authors with multiple books on the shelves have to be wary of potential time-guzzlers.

Loree Lough, award-winning author of more than forty inspirational novels, says, “I honestly believe I write better stories, faster, when I’m doing more than one project at a time, because I’m in “creative mode” throughout my entire workday; coming up with spiffy dialog for ‘this’ book primes my brain for dialog in ‘that’ book. Same goes for scene-setting, character development/motivation, etc.”

Mystery writer Jack Burns explains his writing style: ” I know this sounds corny, but I start each morning with a statement of affirmations, which includes the words, ‘I work on one project at a time, except when there is a deadline for others.’ When I write a novel, I try to write it straight through from beginning to end, using Stephen King’s advice not to do research while you are writing your first draft.”

Mary Jo Putney, best-selling author of historical and contemporary romance, had this to say: “I tend to be a very linear writer, and when I’m in serious working mode on a book, it’s in my head all the time, so I don’t really have to get back into it. I don’t do a lot of short projects, especially not articles, since I’m not terribly good at non-fiction, but when I do such things, it’s always in time early in the day, before I start on the book. I’ll work on an article or a speech or whatever over time, but it’s never the main focus of my attention. For me, being in a novel is like being a fish in an aquarium—I swim in it.”

My personal habits include reading e-mail messages first thing in the morning, then printing out any writing opportunities to look at later. After work, I follow up by checking guidelines for the project, usually on the Internet. It saves a lot of time in the long run if I make sure my work is right for the project before submitting it. If possible, I read sample stories on line or request a sample publication. Anthologies such as “Chicken Soup” and “God Allows U-Turns” offer samples at their sites.

Staying Focused

Sending out short, creative non-fiction pieces is fun, can bring in a few dollars and writing credits, but if time is short I have to reduce my irons in the fire. It’s a matter of setting priorities and then working towards the most important ones. Because I consider novel writing my long-term and most important interest, evenings are reserved for my work-in-progress. Article and short-story pages are tucked into folders for the night, and the novel is spread out across my desk. I find if I don’t at least look at my novel every day, I have to review a lot to get back into the story.

There are as many methods of staying ‘focused’ as there are writers. I have to look at my own goals monthly to keep from getting distracted, because I enjoy writing all types of things. Take some time to set your priorities, decide which irons to keep hot and keep writing!

Copyright © Robin Bayne, previously published by Spirit Led Writer.