Today’s Visiting Professor, JENNIFER MCGOWAN, is a past RWA Golden Heart winner and 2011 Golden Heart finalist. She is also a friend of mine with a brand new book. I met Jenn when I joined the Ohio Valley chapter of RWA about five years ago, and since then I’ve watched her progress to published author status with great excitement. Join me in raising a virtual glass of champagne to toast Jenn’s new release!
Thank you so much for hosting me today at Romance University! I’m thrilled to announce that my debut novel, MAID OF SECRETS, is now available (as of yesterday!!) from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. It’s the YA historical tale of a wry, resourceful thief forced to join an elite group of spies in Queen Elizabeth’s court. You can learn more about it at my website www.jennifermcgowan.com, or read actual reviews from real people (still kind of amazed by this) at Amazon.
But on to my topic for today!
Back when I was an aspiring author (you know, less than two years ago), I thought I knew exactly how I’d behave once I’d gotten my first publishing contract. I thought I’d be calm, cool, collected and professional. All the time. After all, I was a professional entrepreneur in my own right. I’d been a successful businessperson for most of my adult life. I could handle this!
Then I got the contract. Suddenly, I realized I knew NOTHING about the publishing process, and I wanted to know EVERYTHING. Nevertheless, I was nervous asking my editor fifty-seven million questions, or my agent for that matter. I didn’t want to be needy, or annoying. Or, you know, neurotic.
So what did I decide to do? I thought “ah ha! I’ll work on the next book!”
But first, well… I had to sign up for a Twitter account. And get on Facebook, explore GoodReads, figure out Tumblr, think about redoing my website… pretty much whatever I could do to avoid working on the next book. Because writing is not always easy. And surely there would be time for that writing stuff later.
But the roadblocks didn’t stop there. Six months out from publication date, I was grappling with copy edits and ARCs and cover reveals and it was suddenly very easy not to work on either my second book OR that new WIP that I really wanted to finish because I wanted to be a full-time writer. Three months out from publication date and I was starting to sweat blurbs and reviews and set up blog tours and take care of promotional ideas and… well, focus got to be a challenge.
And then I smacked myself, and got back on track. I finished that WIP, wrote book 2 of the Maids of Honor series, and took another step forward toward reaching my dream.
How did I do it—and how can you keep your focus, when all the world is clamoring for your attention? (Without the unfortunate smacking part??) Here are my three favorite tips!
1. Do the important stuff first.
By important, I don’t mean, necessarily, urgent. And I understand “urgency”, especially if you have a day job or clients who will not wait. But even if you have a looming deadline, take ten minutes to do whatever is most important to you — in many cases, that means working on your creative project. Start your day doing the work for which you want to be known. If you are an author, for example… then you write. Even if it’s just a snippet, it will help set the tone for the whole day.
2. Make it a game.
We all respond to different cues, but each of us have that ‘thing’ that makes work more like a game. For me, it’s tracking. I like to see a spreadsheet where I record my word count for the day—day after day, k after k. It keeps me motivated AND it keeps me on track. I feel guilty when I don’t hit my word count, and I work to catch up.
For others, setting timers adds that element of “gametime”. Or doing sprints with friends. Or blogging about your results. Or doing a vision board—whatever it is that makes hard work seem like fun (even if only a little bit), I urge you to do. It will help make sitting down to do the work that much easier.
3. Make sure your dream is powerful enough – to YOU.
Let’s face it–we have many distractions in a day. We may be spouses or parents or star performers at work, we may have volunteer or sporting or career commitments that take up our every spare moment. In order for you to really ensure you stay focused, you have to want to achieve your dream badly enough to be able to say no. Even if it’s only for twenty minutes at a time. Even if it’s in the wee dark hours of the morning. But you have to say “no” to those other things (I’m looking at you, social media) in order to say “yes” to your dream… so your dream better be worth it.
And it better be YOUR dream. Not your mom’s, not your fifth grade teacher’s. Yours. Because you’re the one who has to do the work, you’re the one who has to make the decisions about your career, and you’re the one who will look back at the end and say “Yes. I did that.”
Here’s wishing you the moment when you say those words, and you are so overwhelmed with joy that all you can do is smile.
What about you? What are your tips for staying focused??
On Friday, regular RU columnist Handsome Hansel returns!
Jennifer McGowan was born in Ohio, grew up in Montana, and studied Paris. She has held numerous writing jobs over the years, but author is by far her favorite. A past RWA Golden Heart winner, Jenn is the author of the Maids of Honor series. She lives and writes in Ohio. Visit her at JenniferMcGowan.com.
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