Friday, March 23, 2012

How to Focus on Your Book

Lately I’ve had trouble focusing on… well, anything, but especially my book, Sacred Fire. I’m supposed to be revising it, but sometimes I’m in the mood to think about my other WIPs. In a day my mind might wander to the deserts of Kenya, the voodoo temples of New Orleans, the Portland waterfront, or a medieval battlefield.

There's nothing wrong with letting yourself work on other things when you need a break from a project. But there needs to be a limit. Right now when I sit down to a computer, it’s nearly impossible to get my brain back to Ancient Rome.

I need to focus. But how?

Here are a few things that usually work for me:


I used to have a collage of Vestal Virgins above my desk, but it was too busy. Instead, I downloaded all my photos into an electric frame to make a slideshow, which I put next to the tv. I have one picture of a vestal on my desk at home, my desk at work, and one by the bed. I could also use the pictures as a screensaver or make a photo album.
Sometimes I get a little sick of looking at the same pictures of Vestal Virgins I’ve look at for the last five years, but more often than not, they get me excited about my book.


Music is a very powerful way to invoke emotion and create mood. Unfortunately for me, I don’t have access to any Ancient Roman music (except for the soundtrack of Gladiator, which I’m ashamed to say makes me think about Rome). For Fierce, I could listen to African drummers, and while I worked on Hunger, I listened to a lot of romantic songs.

Trust me, it works.


Sometimes I’ll read over my research books when I need to focus. They remind me why I wanted to write my story in the first place. You don’t have to write historical fiction to use reading to your advantage; anything that inspires you – novels, websites, travel guides – can do the trick.

Reading over your book is also a great way to get back into the mood of writing. If you don’t feel like working, try just reading a page instead. More often than not, you’ll get sucked into it.

With Fierce, I compiled a notebook with printed web pages, pages from books, pictures, etc., and I’d look through it every now and then. I love my notebook.

Work Diary

I’m a firm believer in keeping work diaries. When the writing is going well I don’t maintain mine, but when I’m struggling I keep track of my progress, issues, and goals. It works miracles for me.


Some authors have a writing routine that helps them focus; they write at the same time every day, they start each session with the same exercise or the same music, etc.

In my article Use Sleep to Your Advantage, I talked about how studies show you can retain information better if you read it right before bed. I try to shift my attention to Sacred Fire while falling asleep, either by re-reading a history book, looking at the picture of a vestal on my nightstand, or planning a scene that needs work. Often I’ll wake up in the morning still thinking about it.


At work, I was using the title of a future book as a password to one of the programs. I realized every time I logged on, I’d think about that book.

I read one author who said when she was done with a writing session, she'd plan what she would work on the next day and write it on a sticky note. When she got to work the next day, she’d read the note and know what to do.

I made a Facebook page for my book, and I love going on it, clicking on the links, watching the videos, looking at the pictures. I recommend making one, and if you do, let me know. I’d love to see it.

Those are all the ideas I could come up with. Do you have any other methods to help you focus?


  1. I'm a big believer in soundtracks and rituals. They tell our subconscious "yo, time to get to it!" For THE LILY MAID, I have a soundtrack of very dramatic chamber music (in particular, this Schubert quintet which I mention in one chapter). It works since one of my characters is a musician, so her piano playing plays a role.

    Other rituals: I use Mac Freedom so I can't go online. I set it for 120 minutes to start. By the time that amount of time has passed, I'm usually deep into work and won't be tempted by Facebook or blogging. Sometimes I light a candle or use aromatherapy. I also try to decide the night before where I'm going to start for the next work session.

    I can't think about my book before going to sleep; otherwise, I can't get to sleep. Ditto for reading research books. I have bad enough insomnia as is. That written, a lot of times spontaneous ideas will come to me as I'm drifting off. I often end up typing them into my iPhone as in the dark!

  2. Kris: Those are great ideas! Thanks for sharing. I might have to try the Mac Freedom.

  3. The more I read about the way other people write, the more unprofessional I feel. I love not planning, randomly picking up my notebook and taking it to a cafe or a beach. I write until I'm exhausted of all ideas and have no plans for the next day - I really value my muse taking charge for me. I do find I think about my WIP when I'm falling asleep, so I always have a pad and pencil to hand, but aside from that I'm pretty hopeless. It's a wonder I get to the end of anything! :-)

  4. Annalisa: Hey, if it ain't broke, don't fix it! Do what you love doing the way you love to do it.

  5. Teralyn - For Roman music, have you tried the soundtrack to HBO's "Rome" series? Not sure how authentic it is, but I've always liked it.

    You might also want to try the music from the game "Rome: Total War":

  6. Thank you so much! This was so helpful :D

  7. The only way I know how to focus on something is to turn to something else. I returned to my manuscript recently after six months and now I see it much more clearly.

  8. Music helps me a lot. I can't listen while I write, but if I don't feel like writing, I try to listen to my book playlist before writing. That usually does the trick!

  9. I couldn't write without music! I make a playlist for each of my novels and whenever I'm working on a specific book, I listen to the playlist for it. I use pictures too!!

  10. YES!!! This is exactly what I needed. It's easy to get distracted with everything else going on that your book begins to "slip away." I've learned it's really important to keep your novel in the back (or front?) of your mind even when you aren't writing. I know that Work Diary must work wonders!

    I left you some awards on my blog by the way. :) Have a lovely week!

    -Wendy Lu

    The Red Angel Blog

  11. A very helpful post.. =) Thanks..

    and did you notice?.. you have posted from the future.. March 23rd it seems. haha.

  12. Yeah, I was pretty frustrated about the posting in the future thing. I can post in the past, too, which is actually kind of cool.


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