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Monday, May 4, 2015

A Marathon, Not a Sprint - @JacquieRogers #writing #romance #editing

Attention Span of a Gnat
But Writing a Novel Anyway 
by Jacquie Rogers

There's a lot of talk in the publishing world about word length.  Just a few years ago, there was no such discussion.  Authors and aspiring writers wrote manuscripts to the publishers' guidelines.  Well, things have changed, and in this case, for the better, because now a story can be the length it needs to be, rather than be crammed or padded to fit a set word count.

I love writing short stories (now called "single reads") but my primary focus is as a novelist and I'm writing one now.  Well, not now--I'm writing a blog article, but still.    Last month, I reported that I had 12,000 words written on Much Ado About Mustangs (Hearts of Owyhee #5).  I'm at 70,000 words now, so that's 58,000 words in 30 days.  Not bad for someone who has difficulty focusing on anything longer than about 60 seconds.

One of the best tidbits I heard when I started this gig (way back when) was that writing a novel is a marathon, not a sprint.  So how does someone with a very short attention span do this?  It's something I had to learn.  People like me can't just sit down and write.  I do my best thinking when I'm walking around.  In fact, between the second and third paragraph of this article, I had to get up and walk around, make some tea, and think.  Lesson learned: make what others consider a short-coming into your strong suit.

I'm a semi-plotter.  Before one word of the book gets written, I know my characters through and through, and I have a good idea of the story bones.  This also requires a lot of trips to view the flowers in the back yard, or maybe an occasional toilet cleaning.  Ah, the glamorous writing life.

A lot of times the story doesn't want to let me write it.  I used to think I was stuck, but now I know that story is stuck. Most of the time, it's because of author intrusion, meaning I'm trying to manipulate my characters so the plot I have in mind works out right.  The characters don't agree, so they go on strike.  If the snag isn't because of that, it's because the wrong character is telling the story at that moment.  Either of these things will throw me out of kilter and I need to get out of my chair and go do something else.

But the key is to get back to the computer.  All the while I'm unloading the dishwasher, or folding clothes, story ideas are loping willy-nilly in my head, crashing into each other.  Occasionally, one idea will beat the daylights out of the others, but most of the time, they meld into a series of whole new concepts.  Eventually, one of those new ideas will win out, and whether I'm in the middle of a chore or not, I must get my hiney back in the chair and start writing.

Another tip for those who have short attention spans is to write in different ways.  Sometimes I type, sometimes I use speech recognition, or maybe I'll take out the trusty yellow pad and a primitive writing device.  Sometimes I take my laptop to our downstairs theater, or out on the back deck, or to the coffee shop.  Sometimes it's all of the above. 

Change improves my attention span... for a short time.  Then it's time to go do something else.  I dabble in graphics, play sudoku, or get on my exercise bicycle.  Oh, and the cool thing about smartphones is they have voice recognition, so you can say your ideas while peddling.  If you can breathe.

I'm hoping by my next Smart Girls Read Romance blog day, I'll have a new release to announce.  It's hard work, sometimes agonizingly so, but it's also worth every minute when the characters are happy with how I wrote their story.  Another two people fell madly in love and made the world just a teensy bit better because of it.

For news of my latest releases and such, subscribe to my newsletter, the Pickle Barrel Gazette.  Don't worry, your mailbox won't get overloaded because I don't finish half of them so they never get sent.  But don't tell anyone.

coming soon:
Much Ado About Mustangs


  1. I'm the same way. I have to get up and move around when I write (take 30 minute writing sprints and then refill my coffee or grab a snack or switch the laundry out). It helps my thinking. :) But the best way to keep my focus is music. :)

    1. Music distracts me. I hear one song, makes me think of another, and the next thing you know, I'm on YouTube. LOL. Most of my friends write to music, though, and some even have a playlist for each book.

  2. I don't think of myself as someone with a short attention span but I write a lot like you do. I write a scene, get up, walk around, make a bed, have some coffee (or other beverage), anything to not keep writing as I ruminate over what comes next. I have been known to start a scene without knowing how it's going to go and let the characters take it, but usually it's the walking around that finally lets me see what comes next. I heard one writer refer to it as not pantser and plotter but plunger. Sometimes plunger suits it very well. It's the breaks though that also keep my back from whining-- too much

    1. I generally know what comes next, but I write by hearing my characters, so if they're not talking, or if their dialogue is canned, it's time to get up and get things straightened out. And same here about the back. Mine doesn't like sitting, or standing, very long. Gotta keep moving.

  3. Great post, Jacquie! I agree with Susan and Rain. I don't have the short attention span but I get up and do things around the house as I'm writing. And for the same reason to move the blood and get the brain cells working so I can continue the story to work out a kink in the story that came up.

    I could never write all day and all night like some people do. My brain can't take that much use without sleep. I'm an 8-9 hour a night sleeper. But I can write all day if I take the breaks.

    1. I do think moving helps our brains' thought processes, and in my case, doing something else helps channel off all the excess so one part of my brain can concentrate on the story. As for writing long periods of time, I can go about 22 hours if I have to but then I'll be needing to sleep for 10 hours. In the olden days, I could work two days straight easy. Not now!

  4. Great post! I also have a short attention span. I have never heard someone describe "me" any better.
    I will start a story over and over.. I will know each character inside and out, have a list of each characters physical features, mental attitude, moral disciple, ( or lack of) several plot possibilities and then....The characters take off and the story is nothing like I planned. I do wish I could speed the process up, but it is what it is and I doubt I would enjoy it this much if it were any different.

  5. I really connected to this blog. My attention span is somewhat steadier than a gnat...but just as pesky (for me) is a constant battle with perfectionism, which, I believe is rooted in self-doubt. You caught my attention with 'the story is stuck, not you.' That acknowledgement took the pressure off me, turning my attention to the bones of the story...and not the flesh and blood of me. Being tenacious doesn't help either! I spend much of my time pounding my head against the desk, when viewing the flowerbeds, that bicycle thing is sooo not happening (LOL)...doing something that changes my environment to erase the constrictive boundaries of my working "box" would refresh my air, blood and thought process. Opening creative channels. And, as you mentioned in a comment above, lengthening concentration. My current writing practices exhaust me...and kill any hope of a creative flow outside my writing "time." Today, is a good day to bust down my self-imposed boundaries to let light, air and creativity work its magic.


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