The Writing Zone: Stage 2
Many people want to write, but having the right state of mind for the challenge separates those that wish from those that will.
Lots of concepts for stories have come and gone in my mind over the years. In some cases, I started to type them out and really dove into the ideas that I felt, at the time, needed to be shared with others. When I wrote poetry, the work needed to complete them was simpler, but that was because the ideas presented weren't the most complex. They were still fun to write and short enough to see them to the very end, which was why I've knocked out as many poems as I did back in high school.
Completing stories, however, was a different beast altogether. I've started many, but only really "finished" one story, and even then I wouldn't consider it a story in the traditional sense. When I played Dungeons & Dragons, I spent months crafting the world that my friends's characters would call home: a complete cast of characters and their backstories; small villages; entire kingdoms and their political dramas; magic-powered technologies and spells - no stone was left unturned by this Dungeon Master. This dynamic story was played through almost every Saturday for three years.
More recently, I wrote fan fiction based on Final Fantasy VI (one of my all-time favorite RPGs) for the Super Nintendo, which clocked in at just over fifty-five thousand words. Due to my deep knowledge of the game and its characters, I managed to craft a story that stayed true to the source material while still introducing unique elements that drove my story forward. Unlike my D&D adventure, this story slowly ground to a halt.
What happened? And what was different with my not completing the fan fiction versus completing my D&D adventure? I believe I can sum everything up into two broad terms, both of which apply to my writing today:
If you have a story that must be shared with the world, you must be dedicated toward seeing it come to life. You are, in a way, signing a contract with yourself that states that you will commit a portion of your life to the creation of this work of art. It takes dedication to the craft as well, which means setting aside time for other goals related to writing, such as reading other works of fiction on a daily basis - something that will help you better understand the finer details of writing. On top of reading the works of others, studying up on the "mechanics" of writing, such as the concept of "show vs tell" (I'm still working on this) and handing tenses, is equally important and should be done if you never published a novel before.
Closely linked with dedication is discipline, which reflects your being able to not only schedule blocks of time just for writing, but also being mentally "in the zone" for writing and being able to tune out or remove any distractions that would take you away from your goal. This can be one of the more challenging aspects of writing, as it is not always possible to organize your living space in a way that you could remove or hide all possible distractions to help you focus.
My own experience working remotely, and the discipline needed to be successful working from home, helped significantly in my eventual dedication toward writing. When I worked from home, I mentally prepared myself for complete dedication towards my job between six in the morning and two in the afternoon (that three-hour time difference was brutal for the first few weeks). I also made sure that I had a rock-solid schedule for each day of the week - my calendar was never empty for my work-hours - if there was a window of time that nothing was formally scheduled, I still filled that in with my intended course of action, such as writing documentation or reviewing blocks of code.
Therefore, what worked for me was ensuring there was little room for ambiguity in my schedule in the day. Always make sure you know what you will be doing, even if it's not rigid.
My Final Fantasy fan fiction slowed to a halt for two reasons: The birth of my daughter effectively rewrote my off-work schedule for several months (and until she's off to college in eighteen years or so, if I'm honest), and I changed jobs - the new job being a lot more time-intensive than my previous job. On top of those reasons, the year 2016 was, for the most part, a very busy year for my wife and me, which cut even further into my time. I think most importantly, I felt that although I was having a lot of fun writing my fan fiction, it wasn't something that could be published outside of the writing forums I posted it on - if anything, I found the writing of it to be a great learning experience in terms of my writing style and applying various writing techniques that I've learned over the years to a work of fiction. Conversely, I had far fewer responsibilities during the time that I played Dungeons & Dragons, and so that was limited only by my imagination and how far I wanted the campaign to go.
Today, I am dedicated toward seeing my science fiction novel come to life and get in the hands of as many people as possible. The discipline I've cultivated over time will ensure that I accomplish my daily and quarterly goals related to writing. I hope some of what I shared will prove useful in your adventure, whether that is writing your first book or something else that you find equally challenging in your life.