How To Stay Focused When You Are Writing

Rachel Townsend is a therapist and writer who is about to self-publish her memoir Finding Frank. Here, Rachel shares her experiences for other authors who may be struggling to remain focussed when writing.

Written By Rachel Townsend

Rachel Townsend is a therapist and writer who is about to self-publish her memoir Finding
Frank
. Here, Rachel shares her experiences for other authors who may be struggling to
remain focussed when writing.

I’d like to share my own personal writing journey and the path which eventually led me to be
a soon-to-be published author with Cherish Editions.

I am a fully qualified therapist and therapist’s supervisor by day. Writing is a door I opened
only recently. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write. But it’s more than that.
I’ve needed to write.

Instead, for the last ten years, I’ve had to make do with more work-related theory and writing
case studies in my ongoing studies as a therapist and supervisor. Then just over two years
ago I finally took the plunge and I began to write for me. It was a casual conversation with a
tutor which gave me the courage to get on with the job. She simply asked me why I wasn’t
writing when I told her how much I wanted to. I had no answer. In that precise moment, the
door opened and my journey began.

Now, for any unpublished author, as I am for a few more months, I think the first question
must be, why are you writing? In other words, what is motivating you to write? For me
personally, I had a story I wanted desperately to tell and it simply wasn’t enough for me to
write down my experiences. I needed to connect with others; to know that others would read
my words and perhaps come to know me a little better. Certainly, they would come to know
my story and through my story, perhaps something of me would strike a chord, a resonance.
This hope gives my writing meaning. First and foremost, I believe it’s vital to understand why
you are writing. If you don’t have a clear answer to this important question, you may very
well struggle with momentum.

Secondly, who are you writing for? Perhaps, more specifically, who is likely to be reading
your book? Knowing your target audience will undoubtably shape your writing. I often
imagine the type of person who might be interested in my story. Interested in me. I see them
sitting in their downstairs cloakroom clutching a paperback, gripped by my words.
Surrounded by dark plum painted walls and wooden framed photographs. So strong is this
image.

This brings me to my next piece of advice – know your story. That may sound ridiculous.
After all, it is your story. However, it needs to make sense and it also needs to flow. Every
good story needs a beginning, a middle and an end. When I first wrote Finding Frank, it was
initially threaded through an entirely separate novel which I have yet to amend and polish.
And so, I sent my manuscript out to almost one hundred literary agents and publishers
before it was even remotely ready. Several replied with a very polite acknowledgment but
not one was interested in me or my manuscript. I was crushed. An entire year of writing had
come to nothing. Over one hundred and twenty thousand wasted words. Too many words,
I’ve since discovered.

Never one to wallow in self-pity for too long, I soon sought the guidance of an excellent
freelance editor. After a nail-biting few weeks of waiting, she came back to me with some
very sound advice. She told me that I had a solid, well-written memoir and quite probably
four additional novels, all rolled into one. I was flabbergasted. And also, a little taken aback.
However, my years as a therapist have taught me to take a breath and sit with any strong
feelings which arise. Observe them. Especially feelings that have come about as a result of
feedback which I’ve actively sought. Once I moved past my initial defensiveness, I realised
that she was absolutely right. My novel was disjointed. Fragmented. There was far too much
of everything for just one book. – Characters, plots and sub-plots. Too much narrative and
not nearly enough going on in the here and now. Therapy speak which I understood. If I’d
had a better grasp of my own story from the get-go and had fully understood who I was
writing my book for, I would probably have gone about things in a very different manner.

Getting to grips with the fundamentals will go a long way to tackling the task of focus and
momentum. The rest is entirely practical. Whenever I feel restless or blocked, I move. I’m
lucky enough to have an elderly English Setter who needs a daily walk. And, it works every
time. Most of my inspiration and creative ideas come when I am out walking the dog. Nature
has a calming effect on me and all the noise going on inside my head. If, like me, you have a
lot of traffic in there, you’ll appreciate that it’s absolutely essential to clear your mind before
you sit down to write. When I’m back from my walk, I’m almost tripping over my feet to get
back to my laptop.

Lastly, I need a space which is comfortable, calm and preferably quiet. I can just about
tolerate football coming from the TV in the living room next door with the occasional cheer
from my husband when a goal is scored. I have a huge grey swivel chair and footstool in the
corner of my kitchen with a bolster cushion to support my back. I can literally sit, as I am
now, for hours, glancing up from time to time at the sunshine in the garden, until one kind of
nature or another calls. It doesn’t work so well when one of my teenagers is in the same
space wanting the radio on as they knock up a batch of gooey brownies. You see my point.

So, going back to the original question of how to stay focussed when you are writing:

  1. Why are you writing?
  2. Who are you writing for?
  3. Know your story

Then, get your writing space just right and fend off any intruders! I very quickly learned that
it’s nigh on impossible to concentrate with constant interruptions. Peace in my household is
mostly assured in the early morning while everyone else is still sleeping. I achieve my best
results, therefore, before ten.

Finally, be kind to yourself. We therapists are constantly telling our clients to be kind to
themselves while struggling to follow our very own advice. Write because you want to write
and not because you have to. Paradoxically, it may be that taking a step away from your
laptop to do something entirely different, crucially, something which makes you feel good,
can have the effect of motivating you to write once again. For me, it’s not always about
showing up. More than this, it’s about congruence. If you’re not feeling it, then it’s not likely
to happen. Get back to basics, get the fundamentals right and allow the energy to flow
naturally and organically. You’ll know when it’s right. Because you won’t want to be doing
anything else.

Finding Frank by Rachel Townsend will be available from 1st October 2020

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