#5onFri: Five Tips for Narrowing Your Focus

by Lynne Golodner
published in Writing

Lots of people say they want to write a book about their life. Over the course of years and decades, they’ve amassed experiences and learned lessons that make for interesting reading and inspiration for others.

That makes sense. We all have a story to tell – and really, more than one story. Which can make it super hard to narrow the focus of a book, and make it a manageable project.

Writing a book is no small feat, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Narrowing the focus of your book is the first step in making it possible to complete the manuscript. Remember that writing one page each day leads to a pretty hefty book in a year’s time, which makes the project seem doable – if you have a clear focus of what you’re writing about.

But how to narrow your focus? Consider these tips for focusing on a book project you can’t wait to dive into.

1. Free-write all that you could write about.

You may have great ideas for a lot of books, but how do you get them written and into the world with everything else you have going on?

Just because you have ideas doesn’t mean they will all make it into book form. 

Sit in a place where you won’t be distracted and write (by hand!) freely about the topics you’d like to write about. Set a timer for 10 minutes. Write without judgment and without reviewing what comes out. Just write.

  • What could you write about?
  • What stories do you have to tell?
  • What incidents have you endured?
  • What obstacles have you overcome?
  • What lessons can you share with others?
  • What inspiration can you offer?

Be as specific as you can and see where the brainstorming takes you. Right now, you’re just cultivating ideas and capturing possibilities.

2. Review your notes and highlight finite options.

After the brain dump, use a highlighter to identify topics that are specific enough to tackle in one book. Periods of time or individual incidents.

You likely generated enough ideas for more than one book! Now that they’re on paper, you can always go back to them for the next book. That frees you from trying to cram everything into one manuscript.

The more narrowly you focus your topic, the more detailed you can get, and the more time you can spend on particular events that move the narrative along. You can pay attention to dialogue, establishing setting, building depth in your characters. All of these components make a book come alive.

3. Choose one focus.

Consider which topic you want to tackle in THIS book. On a new sheet of paper, write this topic at the top and jot down specific events, a timeline, or key turning points.

In the margins of each event, day, or point, write 3-5 specifics: 

  • Where were you? 
  • Who was there? 
  • What was the weather like? 
  • What emotions did you feel? 
  • What is important to move the story along?

These details will be pivotal for your writing. When you have a starting point, it serves as a prompt to generate compelling writing. The more specific a scene can be, the more universally relatable it becomes.

4. Create an outline of chapters.

When I write a book, I outline the topics for each chapter, then write one chapter a time. When you narrow down your book’s overarching topic, you can narrow it even further by outlining chapters and writing in steps. That makes the project incredibly manageable.

Think about what has to happen from beginning to end of your story to take the reader on a journey. 

  • Where do they start? 
  • Where do you want them to end up? 
  • What outcomes or revelations should they have by the end of the journey? 
  • What pivotal points will help get them there?

As you outline your chapters, consider examples, anecdotes, or case studies to include throughout the book. Small stories to illustrate a larger point help connect the author to the audience at every step of the journey.

5. Set weekly goals.

Now that you have a road map for writing, build a structure toward success! Set weekly goals for when you will write, where you will do your writing, and how much you want to churn out in a week’s time.

Perhaps you start with time of day and location. If you can, choose a writing place away from where you do your normal work. It should be a space that sparks creativity and that, in time, when you sit down there, your creative juices will just start flowing!

It can help to adorn your writing space with little items that encourage creativity. Perhaps you light a candle to signify the start of your writing time. Or, when you achieve the number of pages you set out to write that week, you buy yourself a bouquet of flowers to display on the desk next to your laptop.

Designate a set goal for your writing. A chapter by the end of the week, or 10 new pages, or whatever feels reasonable. 

Remember, a page a day leads to a book in a year. One page is approximately 300 words – that’s not hard to do. And, most writers, once they get going, produce more than a page. 

You can do this!!

Lynne Golodner

Lynne Golodner is the author of 8 books, with her ninth due out in February 2021. A former journalist, she is the host of the Make Meaning Podcast (www.makemeaning.org), a book coach, and a marketing/PR professional (www.yourppl.com). Lynne lives in Huntington Woods, Mich., with her husband and four teenagers.

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