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Author Topic: Focus Hours
Disgruntled Peony
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I was reading back through some of David Farland's Daily Kicks today, and noticed something about focus hours that grabbed my attention. It was actually mentioned in a discussion about career killers -- things writers struggle with and need to avoid if they want to have a career in writing.

Essentially, the way Dave boils it down, people have about six hours we can really focus per day. If we use those up on things other than writing, we won't write. I know I'm guilty of that--it has been and continues to be my greatest obstacle to overcome. My day job tries very hard to monopolize my sanity, and what few off days I have are generally spent trying to recuperate from said day job.

That said, I really do think it's time I start saving some of my focus hours for writing and work on something writing-related every day (whether it be writing, editing, or critiquing).

Also, everyone should check out that kick if they haven't already. It's got a lot of very useful advice.

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extrinsic
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As per usual, Wolverton's approach to "Career killers" and "Focus Hours" evinces the same essay shortfalls which leave me unpersuaded. One is the very label "focus hours" he uses; Wolverton invents terms and concepts which preexist and are far more incisive. Human multitasking, cognitive switching, code cognition, bottlenecking, and, specifically, adaptive executive control amount to a more comprehensive cognitive process that can be learned in response to task demands and task prioritization.

My work days hours, for example, can be long, some days as many as eighteen hours. I still manage a few composition practice hours squeezed in between my other work. Cognitive switching, code cognition, and adaptive executive control strategies and tactics make that possible, learned from having to perform on deadline demand regardless of my state of mind. My creative composition practice sessions on busy workdays, for example, is a rest from the other work, so that I can then more intensely focus on the work.

Though, yes, caliber of finished product might be impacted by stress and tiredness. Adaptive executive control serves in those situations, sort of a prioritization strategy. Which task is most critical at this time and thus requires the most focus? If the focus and outcome caliber needs to be a greater degree than I am capable of at the time, am I able to appreciate that at the time and can the task be delayed until after a brief rest? Or, could the caliber be acceptable though not my best effort at the moment?

Wolverton's essays tend toward scatter shot, limited focus, other than proprietary invention, as well entail off-the-cuff, on-the-fly composition and, amusingly, often contravene the very point on point in the same span as the point. Of note, the very essay about career killers and focus hours evidences unfocused process and composition. Those are conventions of the blogosphere, though, and, ergo, Wolverton accords the casual and conversational conventions of blog culture and form.

I might be entertained by those above mentioned contraventions, maybe informed somewhat; sometimes Wolverton's approach is an incisive new perspective of extant knowledge, sometimes newly organized extant knowledge from a fresh if unfocused perspective, though I've yet to see new knowledge therein.

I am usually amused more than anything else, and, at uncommon times, baffled by his inventions, which, after some meditation, I can unravel and compare and contrast to others' explications of similar craft topics. My main reason for following Wolverton, though, is for insights into the workings of his composition, analytical, and evaluative processes. They are about par for fantastic fiction culture overall.

For less widely read writers passionate about the current fantastic fiction culture, Wolverton is a more prolific contributor than many and a useful source for beginner to intermediate guidance from within his personal creative vision and slant sensibility and sentiment parameters. In other words, "what works for him." He is, ultimately, true to himself.

[ September 08, 2016, 12:46 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Disgruntled Peony
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Really, in the end, any writing advice is just that--advice. Different things work for different people. I just thought it was an interesting set of observations that I hadn't been exposed to before.

I often feel like I'm fumbling in the dark with a light switch when it comes to writing. I'm starting to get comfortable with that, though, weird as it may sound.

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Robert Nowall
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My day job is a night job; I don't get enough sleep and I'm always tired. Perhaps that's why my production of late has been, well, less than good, in two senses.
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extrinsic
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We prose writers, challenged or successful and all points between extremes, all struggle through a more or less lightless, trackless void and seek a light to guide us, many lights. Many lights are available, some brighter than others. Much wading though the gamut to get as full a comprehension of craft and expression modes as suits our individual endeavors. Many go so far and no farther. A strong choice if that terminal attainment suits an audience of sufficient quantity. Both more and less are necessary to suit a broader audience. More, in order to appeal broadly; less, in order to evade too weighty a work that causes widespread inaccessibility.

A strong piece of advice not seen often enough reconciles both into one: define an audience of one reader. Then write solely for that reader. A wise one-reader definition entails what subject matter the reader craves, what genre, what length, what narrative type (drama, anecdote, vignette, sketch), what grammatical person, what identity matrix, what degree of language sophistication, e.g., dialect, idiom, grammar, and rhetoric, etc., whatever preference areas the one reader projects.

A graphic representation of the writer-reader-narrative conversation relationship also illustrates, this too rarely seen, here at Hatrack for the first time:

code:
^| +                 = Writer
|| + =
E| + =
f| + =
f| + =
o| = +
r| = +
t| = +
|| = +
|| = + Reader
|O_____________________
--- Time, Revision --->

The horizontal axis represents a narrative's development over time, draft through revision time. The vertical axis represents the effort expended for the sake of timely understanding. The plus signs represent reader effort progression over time, revision; the equals signs represent writer effort progression over time, revision.

The works of, say, our host Orson Scott Card set toward the right side of the graph, of Ernest Hemingway toward the middle, of James Joyce toward the left. Early drafts by challenged writers are invariably flush left on the graph. Much of screened fantastic fiction tends toward the right side of the graph -- overtly. Yet the non-one-to-one figurative-to-literal meaning correspondence convention of fantastic fiction is covertly more sophisticated than other genres' and more challenging and appealing for it -- to write and read.

For example, vampire genre reflects its origins from Medieval folklore, that is, socially elite idle aristocracy thriving on the life's blood of their subjects. The contemporary fantasy sympathetic vampire convention notwithstood.

Stephenie Meyer's Twilight cycle poses noble vampires as socially elite personas who protect society from feral vampires, though the narrative is really about forgiving social elitism as a superior social privilege for superior social responsibility. Many readers have criticized the cycle for "mixed messages," that social elitism is okay, mostly.

The mixed messages can be reconciled if received as raising the question of are persons of superior social responsibility entitled to superior social privileges. If so, how much more than the average person? Also, if so, are they entitled to do undue harms to others, too? But Meyer only scratches at the edges of those conceptual social questions.

That they are raised at all by the Twilight cycle evinces Meyer intended only an overt action that missed a large part of the covert action the cycle implies. If she had had that knowledge firmly in mind when she began or at any time before publication, oh what a much greater appeal she would have accomplished. And just a very little amount different and additional than the final result is, only enough to signal this is about more than meets the eye and makes it accessible though less overt than a blunt force trauma blow.

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I wonder how many authors really have such knowledge about the implications of their work when they set out to write it.

I suspect that having such things pointed out to them in the critique process can either open them up to greater possibilities which they will incorporate into rewrites OR it can paralyze them (or at least trigger aspects of the Dread Writers Block) as they contemplate those greater possibilities and then struggle with the question of whether or not to tackle them in rewrites.

I also suspect that some writers may simply shrug and say something along the lines of "I just want to tell a story here," and not do much at all in the rewrites.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
I wonder how many authors really have such knowledge about the implications of their work when they set out to write it.

Very few; actually, if the intangible implications are overwrought, they are too overt, and will dominate a narrative's expression to the exclusion of broad appeal. They become philosophical expressions instead that preach a moral law assertion and ring false for being forced into a mold -- huge turnoff being told how to act, believe, think, feel.

Rather, a personal moral truth discovery appeals far more due to the discovery being about another's personal experiences and, therefore, open to acceptance, appreciation, or outright rejection, though appealing nonetheless because this is about someone else's complications and conflicts. Relateable enough, and, due to practical irony's arts, is not asserted, rather, is subjective in all that subjectivism entails.
quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
I suspect that having such things pointed out to them in the critique process can either open them up to greater possibilities which they will incorporate into rewrites . . .

The single most crucial aspect for such things is that they afford the opportunity for stronger and clearer overall and part, piece, parcel, and whole unity. Secondmost is that they lend the ever so crucial freshness of expression about yet again another same moral human condition so often recounted over time's span time.
quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
OR it can paralyze them (or at least trigger aspects of the Dread Writers Block) as they contemplate those greater possibilities and then struggle with the question of whether or not to tackle them in rewrites.

To each as each may, so far and no farther. For me, the effort has been worth the midnight candle burnt. Unfortunately, still, what any given narrative I compose really is about is a stifling process; plus, exactly enough and no more covert signals that suit the target audience of one reader remains a stumbling obstacle.

quote:
Originally posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury:
I also suspect that some writers may simply shrug and say something along the lines of "I just want to tell a story here," and not do much at all in the rewrites.

Just wanting to tell a story asks about the same strength, clarity, and unity as added depth from intangibles and covert expression contribute, as far as prose's social functions go.

Like entertainment, what entertains readers most? A lively, vivid, tangible action with only enough subtext to meet their extant cognitive aptitudes. The practical irony of all prose is that, while being entertained, some moral truth persuasion transpires, prose's real and true social function. Though more than a few dissent regardless. Naturalism, for example, nihilistically and pessimistically rejects moral truths.

The at present most notorious example of a misdirected narrative is Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Sinclair aimed for people's moral aptitudes, their minds, and viscerally shocked them instead. Much reform transpired afterward.

Of note, also, is that Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is oddly responsive to The Jungle, swings the pendulum of social responsibility's moral truth discovery toward the elites' privileges and their subjects' responsibilities, away from The Jungle's everypersons' rights and privileges and elites' social responsibilities. The tug of ideological narrative pushmi-pullya conversations continues unabated. This too is a matter of defining an audience of one reader, which ideologies are paramount preferences.

For me, the ideal ideology of my one reader is that of Pluralism, that a diverse society is robust and lively and manifold, that both poles of a duality of any ideologies are essential for each's existence, and a twain shall meet, whether in conflagration, confrontation, confliction, or contention, or coordination, cooperation, or codetermination. All the above are necessary for life's vigorous perpetuation; otherwise, life stagnates and perishes.

So yes, no matter how overt an action is, the action best practice is really about something else, congruent and covert. For example, a narrative about a hero forged to thwart a bug-eyed, tentacled monster invasion is about xenophobia's difference indifference and intolerance, on the part of the monsters. On the hero's part, is about answering to social responsibility and personal sacrifice toward that end. Like Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game.

[ September 10, 2016, 07:02 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Interesting, extrinsic. Thank you.
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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Robert Nowall:
My day job is a night job; I don't get enough sleep and I'm always tired. Perhaps that's why my production of late has been, well, less than good, in two senses.

I worked nights at a hotel for about five months. It damn near drove me into a depression. I understand how rough it can be. The human body just isn't made for night jobs.

As far as audiences go, I mostly write to please myself and my husband. I do want to go pro one day, whether through official markets or self-publishing, but it's not something I expect to happen anytime soon. I'm not prolific enough to make any real money on short fiction, and I haven't been able to focus past the outlining process of any longer-length projects.

(I'm also not at all fond of social media, which means the idea of self-publishing and having to market my own work strikes me as incredibly uncomfortable. On the other hand, I'd have to do some of that anyway, so I just need to buck up and get myself a website/public Facebook account/Twitter account at some point.)

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extrinsic
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A reinterpretation of a proverb goes: Prepare for the worst; plan for success. (Hope for the best; prepare for the worst.)

A "focus hours" plan is a plan part for success. Two other axes contribute. One, a short-term focused-goal outcome, one variable, say plot, worked on for a definite, brief time span. The temporal axis is the other "two" axis of a tripartite success plan.

For example, plan a draft of a scene segment that will comprise one hour of focused writing per day, of so many days, maybe three or so, or a few more or less, focused on one method, say an event (anecdote), or setting (vignette), or character (sketch), or more focused, say, emotionally charged lighting effects cast onto a decrepit tombstone (focused motifs), or charged dialogue between two personas, and mind that the results are practice, expendable, and solely intended for exploration and experiment. No need and no benefit to swing for the fence, nor punch through a face or window, nor score an utter victory.

This plan method works due to being prepared beforehand, before sitting down to put words on the page, being focused on a discrete tangible goal and outcome that is manageable from being divided into manageable goal and session pieces. And the pieces, in time, factor to a greater outcome overall than the sum of the whole. Synergy!

Part of the plan is less tangible and entails some blunt self-assessment of strengths and shortfalls. More crucial, what are my-your creative composition shortfalls? Focus work on those, one at a time.

Subjective what are my-your shortfalls, of course, are open to interpretation, question, and challenge. The beauty of personal self-subjectivity, though, is the self chooses which one variable to focus work on at a time and how narrowly focused.

The drawback is how to select single goal variables from a whirlwind hurricane of manic thoughts that one gnat flatulence to focus work on. The latter is where blunt self-assessment contributes most and derives from preplanning (prewriting), perhaps mental plan meditation and composition while at work, on the road commute, in the shower, early after waking, whenever undivided attention on a task at hand is not required.

What at this moment do you-I identify as a focused, manageable shortfall goal variable that is essential to your-my writing growth? How much time should be planned -- allotted -- for focused work on it? Plus, the planned goal also entails successful attainment of the goal in a manageable, short-term time span. Another variable and subjective choice for that latter: how much advancement satisfies the moment of need and your-my goals? How do you-I know the need is satisfied? Give the self permission to be satisfied that this session accomplished its designs for the moment. Later, maybe circle back around to it and give it another go.

A discrete plan goal chooses one focused variable minutia that can be accomplished in one session of however long and brief the self chooses. In no time at all, a look back at progress along the sacred Poet's Journey realizes genuine advancement.

If queried, I'd propose that tone is generally the more common writer shortfall, of whatever skill tier. Tone -- attitude, emotional charge -- trumps many other composition shortfalls, includes grammar, content and organization, and craft areas. Is the other category: expression and voice.

Tone is also the more common prose want of agents, editors, publishers, and readers. They crave it. Some many know not that they do crave strong tone. Afraid, angry, joyous, affectionate, sad, anxious, excited, confused, despaired, ironic, sarcastic, etc., whatever emotional charge of hundreds of variables, focus on one and work on how to express it, for a session or two, and it alone, in written word.

[ September 13, 2016, 02:53 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Grumpy old guy
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Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:
quote:
I do want to go pro one day. . .
Why?

This is a serious question: Why do you want to be a professional writer, and why don't you expect it to happen soon?

Phil.

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Grumpy old guy:
Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:
quote:
I do want to go pro one day. . .
Why?

This is a serious question: Why do you want to be a professional writer, and why don't you expect it to happen soon?

Phil.

I'd honestly like to make a living from writing. I've felt that drive since I was young. I love stories and storytelling. (That's why I enjoy tabletop roleplaying so much. You have a small audience and you weave the story right in front of them.) It's not that I think it would be easy work, it's more that it's a job that would actually let me be myself.

I've loved reading since I was young; I dictated a story to my mother when I was too young to write and illustrated it myself. It was terrible, but I was four or a pre-kindergarten five, so that's to be expected.

My mom and my grandmother also loved writing. Mom pursued writing (especially screenwriting) for years, but never got anywhere with it and eventually moved on to a day job. She's gotten promoted since and sometimes she writes nonfiction for/edits the company magazine now, which I will admit is very cool. I've been encouraging her to write fiction, though, because that was her dream. She finally started again this year, and I'm super proud of her.

The big reason I don't think I'll get to where I want to be any time soon is because I want to write novels but I'm still having focus problems on any longer-term stories. I think the outlining process gives me too much time to think things over and decide the story is crap. On the other hand, when I used to jump into writing a longer piece without an outline (or even with one), about five thousand words in I'd decide it was crap and stop writing.

I know that I need to push past that barrier, finish a terrible first draft, and then fix it later. It's just a matter of actually getting myself there mentally.

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Disgruntled Peony:
The big reason I don't think I'll get to where I want to be any time soon is because I want to write novels but I'm still having focus problems on any longer-term stories. I think the outlining process gives me too much time to think things over and decide the story is crap.

This is both a bummer that every long and many short fiction writer encounters and an insightful process. Great that up-front plan effort realizes a fiction project doesn't have the legs on it to go the distance in both cases. On the other hand, and this is a profound truth easily overlooked, any narrative concept has potential for greatness, if what's missing could be realized. Often, as well, a misapprehended approach is the shortfall. Perhaps a story is really best, strongest, clearest about a villain, not a hero, for example, or at least a tragic hero. The matter of substance therein is truth, a narrative that is true-to-life, true to itself.

Okay, yeah, sober-deep philosophy there though philosophy's moral arts and sciences and truths is the kernel subject matter of narrative arts. Realization of a moral truth, personally, through written-word expression discovers personal meaning. The co-challenges of prose are, a structure formula that calls no attention to the formula, does not appear formulaic though is, not a philosophical moral law assertion, and timely realization of a prose concept's moral truth discovery tableau, likewise is and does not appear moralistic to the immediate sense.

Artful narrative arts are a paradox of paradoxes in the rhetorical sense, and double and more binds, and cognitive dissonances galore. Usually, if not always, irony too, like do this though do not overtly appear to do so.

Paradox, from Silva Rhetoricae:
"1. A statement that is self-contradictory on the surface, yet seems to evoke a truth nonetheless.
Example
Whosoever loses his life, shall find it.
2. Inopinatum. The expression of one's inability to believe or conceive of something; a type of faux wondering. As such, this kind of paradox is much like aporia and functions much like a rhetorical question, or erotema.
Example
It seems impossible to me that this administration could so quickly reverse itself on this issue." (Gideon O. Burton, Brigham Young University)

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