by Kelsie Engen


In this modern age of technology, there is no end to distraction. If you want to stay focused you really have to try. There’s no escaping the world to go write a novel unless you put forth the effort to get away from every distraction known to man. (And even then it’s a test of discipline.)

I read an article on Medium awhile ago now, but in gist, it says this: while training for the Olympics, the British rowing team asked themselves one question about everything they did: Will it make the boat go faster?

So…I want this hamburger. Will it make the boat go faster?

I want to stay out late and drink. Will it make the boat go faster?

I am going to go to the gym. Will it make the boat go faster?

You get the idea.

The reason they did this is quite clear: They wanted to win. They wanted to do the best they could, whether or not it resulted in winning.

So for everything they did, it was worth asking whether it would help them reach their goal.

I’ve pondered this a lot lately, as I deal with the stage of life I’m in. I have a 4 month old and a 4 year old now, and finding the time (and energy) to write feels impossible sometimes. By evening, I’m drained and it’s hard to string two words together. In the morning, all I want is 15 more minutes of sleep before I begin the chaos of my day (or else my morning gets hijacked by two little terrors in the wee hours.)

But I also have goals. Writing goals. Life goals.

Yeah, some of them are kid oriented. I want to teach my son to read. I want to meet the needs of my daughter and figure out what she’s allergic to, while maintaining my sanity. (I also want her to be okay with being babysat and being held by her Grandma, but I digress.)


How does this apply to writers?

For me, or another writer like you perhaps, the question might be: Will it help me write my novel? (Or maybe: Will it help me publish my novel?)

Therefore, it follows that we ask ourselves for everything we do: Will it help me write/publish my novel?

I want fifteen more minutes of sleep. Will it help me write my novel? Nope. Better get up and start writing.

I want to watch Psych on Netflix. Will it help me write my novel? No. Better turn it off and focus on writing.

What has stuck with me from this article is really two things:


1. I need to be more focused on the big goal–through a little goal mentality.

What I mean by that is that the question “will it make the boat go faster” applies daily to every little thing I do. So during nap time (if I happen to get both kids down at once), I want to veg and watch TV or read a book or take a nap. But will it help me write my novel? Usually, no.

Notice that I said “usually.” There are times where a short bout of vegging is exactly what you need in order to focus when you sit down to write.


2. Not everything in my life can meet this standard of helping my writing.

Now, in theory, this questioning thing is a great idea. I have to eat, sleep, etc, and take care of my body. So even if I decide to go on a 30-minute run instead of writing for those 30 minutes, it may help me write my novel in the long run (no pun intended) by keeping my body healthy so that I can write. After all, exercise is vital to our bodies and mind. Studies have shown that exercise is linked to a healthy mind. I shouldn’t feel guilty about choosing to run instead of writing once throughout the day.

But… If I am constantly choosing running over writing, then there’s a problem. I need to make sure that my writing is high on my priority list–while taking care of my body and treating it well so that when I ask my mind to think and my fingers to type, I can do so.


But what I walk away with is much more than this.

As I think about what it takes to become an Olympic-level athlete, I’m reminded that it’s no mistake that a handful of Olympic hopefuls became an Olympic team in the first place. Not only are they the best of the best, but they’re also dedicated and driven. An Olympic team doesn’t have room on for slackers who aren’t pulling their weight.

I want that for my writing. I want to be dedicated and driven. I want to be an Olympic-level writer and not settle for less than perfection–even though I know perfection isn’t possible. I don’t have time to write scenes that don’t matter. I don’t have time for those slacker scenes or characters that don’t pull their weight in my manuscript. I need everything to do its job and do it well.


12 Tips for being an Olympian writer:

  1. Read a lot and read a variety of things.
  2. Write a lot. Short and long.
  3. Write scenes with purpose and focus.
  4. Be deliberate with your writing time.
  5. Practice writing of all forms.
  6. Practice good grammar.
  7. People watch for ideas.
  8. Take care of your body–even parts you don’t think you use for writing.
  9. Take deliberate rests.
  10. Expect to put in a lot of time practicing every day.
  11. Actually put in that time every day.
  12. Declare your writingness to others.

Now, truth of the matter is, I’m not training for the Olympics, and writing isn’t my sole purpose in life. So it’s not like everything I do is going to fit this standard of productivity, much as I might want it to.

However, it certainly does put your activities into focus better. After all, that hour of video games or dallying about on Facebook doesn’t seem likely to help me write my novel, even if I stretch the truth and say I’m getting “inspired” or “unwinding.” Nah, I think there are better ways to unwind, like reading a book, that might help me write my novel in a more abstract way.

But the idea certainly has led me to reconsider my daily activities. Am I working toward a more productive me? An Olympian writer of sorts? Or am I allowing myself to become flabby and walking away from my dreams by being goalless?




Alternately titled How Charles Dickens Influenced Modern Self-Publishing Part 1 (Or Series versus Serials, Part 1).

Guest post contributed by Kelsie Engen. Kelsie loves to read and started her blog to share that passion with others of like mind. Check out her website for more of her work.