On Writing/Design: Keeping Your Focus

As writers, we tend to be interested in everything. As freelancers, it is in your best interest to be interested in everything. You are, after all, always looking for work, and the good freelancer is the one who can turn his skills to whatever comes along. There’s an urgent sense to be whatever the latest client needs us to be. This is actually inefficient, however – it’s better to master one thing, then sell it to lots of different markets, then trying to master ten things for one market.

But it has other dangers, and one big one is it can knock you off your focus. And that can be fatal.

I’ll give you some examples. My friend recently passed me a writer’s magaz ne. I was like, yes, I’ll read that, they take submissions of poetry and short stories might be a way to make some money, yep yep yep…but the thing is, I currently have some strategies for making money AND some ones ready to explore. I don’t actually need anything new. I’m not writing short stories right now, or poems. So what I’ve actually added is something more to research, study and learn (the magazine, its requirements, its style, etc) that I don’t need. And if I waste time or energy (or worry) on that, it knocks me off my focus on other tasks, which were actually about getting stuff out and making money. I joined another race instead of running the one I was in.

This happens a lot, in various ways. I’m on an industry list, and it’s always tempting whenever they’re talking about something, to follow it and learn about it. To monitor every new trend with my finger on the pulse because I want to be conversant on everything – even though I don’t even want to work on half of them. Study each new game as it comes out. Read a break down on e-publishing and self-publishing even though right now I’m working in a different arena.

Don’t get me wrong, keeping an open mind and inbox is a good idea. When a friend tells me he has an in into a new fiction imprint, I remember it, jot it down somewhere, and file it away, because one day I might need it. But that’s where it stops. If you keep it in your mind, it becomes another race to run, another thing in your inbox, another thing to drag you off target and stop you from finishing something.

The same goes for new ideas – they never stop coming, and that’s awesome, and you should never throw anything away. Jot it down, yes – and then put it aside. You can work on it one day, or maybe not. Ideas, ultimately, aren’t worth that much – and they’re worth nothing if they pull you off focus. Sure, it’d be great to make a game about Napoleonics but if you keep that in the back of your mind while you’re browsing the library or the internet, you suddenly have twice as many links to look at – those and the ones about your current project on Killer Robots. It’s great to be interested in everything, and it’s great to feed the great crowds of piranha in your mind on the endless bounty of the river of knowledge that pours off the information superhighway –Β  but at the same time, you’ve doubled your internet search load – and halved your writing time on both games.

Laser-like focus does not come naturally for the artistic and the intellectually curious – and I’m not advocating losing that curiosity. Being curious is fine. Just beware starting another project – which is exactly what researching and brainstorming IS. Starting is fun, but it is too often the enemy of finishing. And being available for everything stops you from doing anything.

So next time you have a great idea, jot it down, then put it aside and forget about it. Your current project will be better for it.


One thought on “On Writing/Design: Keeping Your Focus

  1. “it’s better to master one thing, then sell it to lots of different markets, then trying to master ten things for one market”
    True, but…
    – this is a demand-driven market. It means that if you master a thing, it better has to be in high demand by the crowds (say, Hackmaster), than a niche subject. Take your review of “It’s a Dog’s live” as an example. The author is an expert on prairie dogs. The public isn’t. Hence it hasn’t sold well.
    – this is a niche market. An editor would want your help for a sourcebook, and then that’s all. If you want to live from RPGs, like Allen Varney, you have to master ten things for ten markets. (Allen Varney wrote a swathe of sourcebooks for a dozen companies.

    To follow one’s own inclination or to adopt the crowd’s last craze, has always been the dilemma of the Artist. πŸ™‚ So the Artist better had a regular job bringing money home, so he could do whatever pleases him πŸ™‚

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