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First Draft Guide for the Focus-Impaired Writer

This method is ideal for: Freelancers, personal trainers, duchesses, and all other occupations where you can sneak in and out of work at no major consequence

This method is not ideal for: Emergency dispatchers, surgeons, pizza delivery personnel, and all other occupations where lives depend on you every second you’re on the clock

I get an idea for a book. I get excited. I think about it all day. I set aside an hour, two hours, sometimes a day, specifically for and only for writing said book. But when I sit down at that scheduled time, those urges kick in – send an "urgent" email, change the fire alarm batteries, tweet that I #amwriting but really scroll through the latest trending topic... you know the drill.

It’s not that I don’t want to work on the book – I do! But the blank page is scary, the pressure to get to a certain word count is scarier, and if you’ve got one of those “progress meters” that show you how far you’ve got to go, that’s the scariest thing of all.

Last year I wrote a post about mini-retreats – writing a first draft in 250 words a day. It worked well for me at the time, because I need to take it slow and figure out the story.

This time, I know the story I want to tell and when I’m not at my laptop I’m writing it in my head. By the time I can sit down and work on it, it should be easy to get a few thousand words out in one go, right? Absolutely. In fact, I'm just going to do that right O LOOK AT THE BABY AYE AYE

Baby Aye-Aye also fears the first draft.
(photo by Chris Corwin)

Yes, I, Michelle Schusterman, am a focus-impaired writer. It's a disease that eventually afflicts all who work online, and unfortunately, there is no cure. Aside from, like, Internet abstinence,

But I have discovered a method that works for me, and if you suffer from focus impairment, it can work for you too. In fact, 60% of the time, it works. Every time.

Steps to Writing a First Draft for the Focus-Impaired

Step 1: Work 1 hour at your freelancing, personal training, duchessing, or other occupation.

Step 2: Write 150 words.

Step 3: Work 1 hour answering phones, taking notes, or organizing LOLcats in order of relevance to your life.

Step 4: Write 150 words.

Step 5: Order lunch, make lunch, or put out any small kitchen fires.

Step 6: Write 150 words.

Step 7: Work 1 hour filing bills, preparing tax returns or watching the best song ever on YouTube.

Step 8: Write 150 words.

Step 9: You see where I'm going here.

Go about your regular work day, but at least once every hour, stop and write 150 words on that first draft. That's less than half of this blog post. 150 words! That’s nothing! That’s like eight tweets!

Using this method, I’ve found I can get over 1,000 words a day easily, sometimes over 1,500, which is much higher than I could ever expect my tweet-filled YouTube-comment-horrorstruck Tumbld-over brain to churn out all at once.

If you suffer from focus-impairment, give this method a shot. Embrace your inability to focus - use it! Because the alternative – limiting online shenanigans, the source of our focus woes – is too horrifying to contemplate.

Michelle Schusterman

Michelle writes books for kids, screenplays for a tv/film production company, and music for anyone who'd buy a "groove matters" bumper sticker. She lives in New York City with her husband (and band mate) and their chocolate lab (who is more of a vocalist). She is the author of middle grade series I Heart Band - 2014, and The Kat Sinclair Files - 2015 (both from Grosset).

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  1. I love this! I am majorly focus-impared, so this makes a lot of sense. :-)

  2. This is something I struggle with. There are just so many interesting things in the world!

  3. Good stuff! I keep waiting for big chunks of time to write, which never come. May have to try this instead.

  4. Love this idea--especially since I've noticed that my creativity usually strikes me while I'm at the day job. :)

  5. This idea is pretty golden. I have those odd productive days, but they're spaced out with days where I know what I need to write and I know I should write it...but the internet calls me away from the blank page. Kind of like right now.

  6. This is awesome! I have a very short attention span, and this would work perfectly for me :D

  7. Sweet! All joking aside, guys, I've actually been doing this a lot and it really has been working. And I kind of like taking the hour or so in between chunks to think about what I wrote and where it's going. I hope it works for ya'll too!!

  8. I can do this outside my work hours but reading every word everyone writes on Twitter and the Blogosphere is too damn interesting ;)

  9. I am happy to see that I am not the only that suffers from this horrible disease.

    Each year, thousands of writers are sucked into the internet vortex, only to remain unpublished and/or unproductive.

    But, with your help, we can shatter the shackles that bind the writer's mind. We can bring an end to the needless mental anguish You Tube, Google, FB and Twitter has caused.

    Oh, damn...who am I kidding? We're shameless junkies. I'm going to try your suggestion. Hopefully, the withdrawal shakes won't kick in until I make it through 150 words. LOL

  10. Since my book published in November, I've been asked over and over to outline my writing process.

    I am going to refer all future quesitons of this nature here! This ISN'T my process, but it sure as heck is a lot better than what my process actually is...

  11. Yes! YES! This is how I NEED to work! Instead of procrastinating and feeling all guilt-ridden for blogging or doing laundry or shaving the dog instead of writing, I just need to incorporate all that into my writing life. (tried it today...worked pretty well!)

    Great post.

  12. I struggle with this SO MUCH. Twitter is the bane of my existence when I'm trying to write. I found this thing called SelfControl, which blocks any website you like for a certain amount of time (it's basically like the parental control on any computer except way easier to use). The first day I installed it, I set it for three hours and wrote 1000 words. I think it's only for Macs right now, though.

  13. Love the kind term ("focus-impaired") and the logical method you're suggesting here. May give this a shot tomorrow! ;)

  14. Great idea! I'm going to try it tomorrow...don't tell my boss.

  15. such fantastic tips!
    the baby aye-aye made me scream inwardly though. and I LOVE weird-looking baby animals, man.

  16. This is a fantastic post!

    I've actually been using a similar method lately: I write at least 50 words, then I can read one page of a book. I get so much more written this way, rather than just sitting staring at a blank page :)

  17. I like that idea of a routine. The problem is that a lot of focus-impaired writers are also anti-routine people, or perhaps it's just me...

  18. Thank you so much for this post! This is exactly the problem I always have when I sit down to write. It's so easy to get distracted!

  19. "60% of the time, it works. Every time."
    I love you so much.

  20. Great advice. I'm going to try this next time I'm feeling focus impaired.

  21. My personal list might look like:

    1) Read First Draft Guide

    2) Try writing a few words

    3) Read First Draft Guide again

    4) Try writing a few words

    . . . and so on!

    Thanks for the delightful read, as well as the helpful hint it conveyed!

  22. I had pretty good focus for my first book, but I've had a lot of stress and distractions during my second book, and I found myself almost associating the stress with the book.

    Truly nothing to do with each other.'s because when I wrote the first book, I didn't have a blog. Or a facebook account. Or a twitter account. HMMMMM I'd better spend some research time looking into that.

  23. Thanks to just Deb for sending me over here. Just an excellent idea for ...oh wait... Billy Crystal's got a movie on Funny or Die. Have to see this....

  24. What an awesome post! I SO relate and will definitely give this a try. Thank you!

  25. This is so great! I always get frustrated that I can't write as much as I'd like to at the Day Job, but this makes perfect sense. Thanks!

  26. I absolutely love this and I love that I found it by chance today of all days! I have 2-3 fully worked out novels in my head and yet I can't start on them. Part of the problem is that I am not the kind of writer that writes random scenes and then pieces them together in a good arrangement later. I write like I read, beginning to end in a line. And starting a book is the hardest thing I can think of. The other part of my problem is focus. I too am swooned by the allure of the internet. I get online and do all the things I set out to do and then when I'm finished I stare at my browser, knowing I should use that time to write, and instead start clicking on random bookmarks I haven't used in months/years and are of no use. Or I troll LOLsites. Or I watch really really bad TV. Or lose myself in a new book that I have convinced myself is imperative to read (and hey it might inspire me). I get nothing accomplished. Yesterday I had the biggest bout of inspiration I've had in nearly a year and was determined with every fiber of my being to use it and write. I didn't even open my document program. I felt like a failure. But with this post now I feel like I have a plan, a small starting point, and I'm definitely going to try it soon ( soon as I'm done procrastinating...)

  27. I loved this blog. Your reaction to internet abstinence was exactly like mine when someone dares to suggest such a thing. Just no. I am quickly becoming a fan.


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Item Reviewed: First Draft Guide for the Focus-Impaired Writer Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Michelle Schusterman