Month: November 2022

178 – Get Focused! Part 2

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Get Focused! Part 2 Write from the Deep podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor YoungFocus is something we do on a number of levels. From the overall picture to the daily minutiae of life and our writing journeys, we are constantly deciding what to focus on. How do you know what is most important in your writing career and what is just a distraction or poor use of your time? We’ll help you figure that out!

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

In the first episode of this series, we talked about how to achieve focus at the highest level—a lifestyle level. That was all about making values-based decisions about what activities and commitments you do and don’t want to have as part of your life. Check it out if you haven’t heard it yet. It’s a good backdrop for everything we’ll cover in the rest of this series.

Today, we’ll be talking about developing focus at the career level. 

For those of you who are just getting started in your pursuit of writing a career, or some form of ongoing publishing, you’re probably hearing advice like: Improve your craft, settle on a genre, create a website, build a newsletter list, get on social media, find more followers, get a marketing plan, study the publishing industry, find an agent, find a publisher, figure out how to indie publish…

It’s overwhelming. Trying to do too many things at once divides your attention, creates stress, and makes it hard to do any one thing with excellence.

Those of you in the midst of a writing career face a multitude of competing possibilities as well. How do you sort through it all? How do you know what area to “focus” on first, or what to focus on each day? 

Not surprisingly, the same type of answer we gave in our first podcast about focus on the largest scale also applies to this “career-level” scale of focus. You have to make decisions.

The 2 List Strategy for Creating Focus

 In an article about focus by James Clear, he talks about using the “2 List Strategy” to create focus. Some people call it the “25/5 Strategy.” Several sources on the internet attribute this strategy to Warren Buffett, but there seems to be some controversy as to whether that’s really true. In any case, the strategy is worth considering.

In the 2 List Strategy, you start by writing a list of your top 25 career goals. This strategy is easiest to employ by those of you already in the midst of a writing career. If you’re in the beginning stages of writing, we’ll talk about a modified version of this for you in a bit. 

If you’re in the midst of a career right now, then make your list. Your top 25 career goals. You’re going to need to devote some time to this. Pray about it. Ponder it. Brainstorm. 

1. Create Specific Goals

You want to be as specific as possible with the goals you list. For example, rather than listing, “Increase my newsletter list,” choose something like, “Add 100 names to my newsletter list every month.” Rather than saying, “Create a backlist of books so I can more effectively advertise,” say, “Create a backlist of twenty books so I can advertise rotating discounts.” Or whatever.

2. Create Goals You Have Reasonable Control Over

It’s also important to pick goals you can reasonably control. So rather than listing, “Get on the bestsellers’ list,” instead list, “Execute an advertising campaign that would help me make a run for the bestsellers’ list.” Obviously your intention is to get on the bestsellers list, but you can’t control what other books come out the same week your book does, and you can’t control what others spend on their marketing campaigns.

Rather than saying, “Win a Christy Award,” which you can’t control, opt for something you can do to improve your craft, such as, “Read a book on dialogue and incorporate those new techniques in my next novel.”

3. Choose the 5 Most Important Goals

Once you’ve made your list of 25, go back and circle the 5 most important. Again, take your time with this. Pray about it. Seek counsel from wise people. Then choose 5 by circling them.

4. Focus on Your 5 Most Important Goals Until They’re Done

Now you have two lists. One list has the most important 5, and the other list has the remaining 20, which admittedly are also important otherwise you wouldn’t have listed them, right? But the key is that you’re only going to focus on those top 5. The top 5 are on your to-do list until they’re done. 

Guess what you should do with your remaining 20 items? Nothing. Nada. Zippo. Zilch. In fact, rename the list to: The Avoid At All Costs List.

It’s easy to get tripped up on this step. We’re tempted to think that we’ll work on those other 20 intermittently or in our spare time, because they’re not as urgent but they’re still important. Therefore, we still want to try to put some effort into them. 

That’s an understandable temptation, but that is exactly the wrong idea. Remember, if you want focus—and this is true on any level of focus—you have to make choices. You must decide what to say yes to and what to say no to. To focus on those top 5, you need to say no to those 20 other things. 

Remember, saying no is not the same thing as saying never. No means “not right now.” Not until you finish those top 5. After that, you get to create a new list of 5. Or, as you complete one thing on your top 5, you could move one of those other 20 things up to the top five, so you would have an evolving list. 

Also, you should be reevaluating your list regularly because things in our lives—and in the marketplace—constantly change. 

The benefit of all this list-making is that it helps you make a commitment. In another article by James Clear, he writes, “Basically, if you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything.”

Another benefit of this list-making is that it helps you avoid overwhelm. It gives you permission to NOT focus on those other 20 things, and that gives you peace of mind. Those things aren’t forgotten, they’re just safely tucked away for now. 

Focus for Newer Writers

If you’re a newer writer, you still need peace of mind. You still need 2 lists. But, thinking in terms of career goals can be a minefield at this stage because many of those goals will require lots of smaller goals to be completed first. You can’t sell any books until you write them, and you can’t write them well until you’ve honed your craft, and so on. 

Instead of making a list of career goals, brainstorm your top 25 goals using a shorter timeline. For example, what do you want to accomplish by this time next year? Or in two years?

Some ideas to list might be:

  • Go to a writing conference
  • Write a short story
  • Find a critique partner
  • Finish the first draft of my novel
  • Read a book on self-editing

Once you’ve made your list of 25, you’ll follow the same process we talked about for the more established writers: You’ll pray about your list, seek counsel from others, and then circle your top 5 goals. And you know what to do with those remaining 20 items: Say NO to them for now.

Remember that we’re following God in this endeavor, and he rarely gives the whole picture at once. That’s why prayer is such a crucial part in this. If he’s leading you to prioritize something—meaning to put it in your top 5—and it’s something that doesn’t exactly make sense to you, that’s okay. He has his reasons. Be obedient.

The 80/20 Strategy for Creating Focus

The 2 List Strategy is just one method of finding focus. It’s one method for picking what to say no to and what to say yes to. There are certainly other methods. For example, Gary Keller wrote a book called The One Thing which has another great perspective on how to focus.

One of the things he says in his book is how many of us fall into believing myths about productivity. One important myth he refutes is the myth that “Everything is equally important.” Everything is NOT equally important. To back up that statement, Keller points to the “80/20” rule, also called the Pareto principle, that says 80% of the results come from 20% of the effort. If everything were equally important, we’d get the same results from everything. But we don’t.

How can we apply this information? We find the things in that 20% category of effort and keep saying yes to them, because that produces the greatest results. The things in the unhelpful 80% category of effort are the things we want to say no to.

How will you know which 20% is creating those terrific results? Measure as best you can. 

Some things are objective and easily measured—marketing results for example. If you find that the majority of your sales come from your newsletter list and very few sales come from, say, posting regularly on Facebook or Twitter, then you’d want to focus on your newsletter and free yourself from the burden of social media. Focus on doing the things that give you high impact results. If you enjoy social media, considerate to be just a fun thing you do, and keep it in the time you set aside in your life for fun or socializing.

Some of the measuring we have to do is more subjective. For example, do you find that when you write cozy mysteries the words flow easily and your critique partners say they enjoy your stories, and sometimes they even forget to critique? Yet when you work on the epic fantasy you feel committed to, it’s a slow grind that produces less exciting results? Is this subjective or objective? A little of both perhaps. But it may well be a sign that writing cozies is in your 20% of effort “wheelhouse,” and writing the epic fantasy is a less effective use of your time. 


Gary Keller also talks about asking yourself a key question: “What is the one thing I can do that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” 

This is a powerful question that deserves time and thought. It can help you narrow your focus on a large scale as well as a very small scale. We’ll talk about this question more in the next episode of this series when we cover focus on a daily, and even a moment-by-moment level. But for now, you can use it to help guide you in what to say no to on a career level. 

For example, maybe you have a lot of email to wade through, and a lot of advertising campaigns you’re overseeing, and you’re putting together information for newsletter swaps, and doing other administrative tasks. If you asked yourself, “What is the one thing I can do that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” the answer might be: hire a virtual assistant. That would make it unnecessary for you to do all those other email tasks because you’ve delegated it to someone else.

That decision helps you concentrate your work efforts on the things that only you can do, which means you’re more focused.

The question “What is the one thing I can do that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” also implies a sense of sequential order. Some things need to be done, or in place, before other things can happen. So you might think in terms of asking, “What must be in place before this goal I’m thinking of can happen?”

For example, you probably ought to settle into a genre before you pay to have a website designed. Or, you may decide to hold up on Amazon ads until after the fifth book of your series is complete so you have more opportunity for return on your investment of advertising dollars. 

You might wait to read that book on how to revise a novel until after you’ve finished your first draft. That way you let your creativity run its course as you write. Then you can set your draft aside, read the book on revising, and come back to your manuscript with fresh eyes and new information.

Maintaining Focus

We’ve talked about some ways to help you find focus in your writing journey. But what about ways to maintain your focus? Aside from saying no to other options, what else can help you maintain focus?

1. Know Your Why and Keep it in Sight

Why did you put this goal on your list of career goals? Why is it important? It’s also good to ask: Is it still important or does it need to be changed? 

Why you do what you do should be a consistent topic of prayer. And keep in mind that God has his own agenda with each season, day, and moment in our lives. Be sensitive to his leading each day, even when it seems at odds with the goal you planned on for that day.

2. Measure Your Progress

Another way to help you maintain focus is to measure your progress. Not for judgment but for feedback on where you are right now. Tracking your journey helps give you a sense of forward momentum, even though some phases will take a while. Some phases might even feel like you’re spinning your wheels going nowhere, but those times still give way eventually—like a traffic jam that finally clears. In the overall scheme of things, you are moving, even if it’s slow sometimes. Measuring your progress helps you see that.

3. Celebrate Milestones

Celebrating milestones another way to measure your progress, and it’s fun! Celebrations give you encouragement and give you positive reinforcement for the hard work that focusing is.

4. Keep a Record

To help you eliminate distractions—and thus maintain focus—keep a record of why you chose to say yes to what you said yes to, and no to other things. Write in your journal: “I eliminated that because…” While it’s good to reevaluate sometimes, and to ask if the “because” is still true, it’s also good to not constantly rehash or second guess your decisions. Keeping a record helps you avoid unnecessary rehashing.

5. Have an Accountability Group

Consider forming a mastermind group, critique group, writers group, accountability group, or whatever kind of group, to help you stay accountable, to celebrate with, and so on. This group can be a great sounding board to help you process your decisions about what you’re saying yes and no to. They can also be a great source of encouragement. God has wired us for relationship. Don’t try to walk the writing journey alone.

6. Love the Process

While we’ve talked a lot about using goals to help you achieve focus, remember that it’s still the process that matters, not the end results. Writing is a journey, and you want to love the journey, love writing. We’re sometimes tempted to say, “I’ll love it when I arrive at this goal, or that goal…” Arriving at a goal is short-lived. It’s a specific point in time. And it’s transient because there’s always another goal to get to.

When we don’t love the journey, we’re in danger of becoming like a person on a road trip constantly asking, “Are we there yet…?”  But when we love the journey, we become partners with God on an amazing adventure that continually has new delights and joys, even amidst the difficulties.

Moving Forward with God’s Guidance and direction

As we ponder, pray, and submit our thoughts, our lists, and ourselves to God, keep in mind Hebrews 12:1.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Move forward with God’s guidance and his direction in what you need to focus on so you can walk in peace and confidence, and with a sense of great reward in our Lord and Savior, wherever the writing journey takes you!

What’s important NOW in your writing career, and what’s just a distraction? Find focus in your writing career! #amwriting #christianwriter Share on X
Books mentioned in the podcast

The One Thing by Gary Keller

The One Thing by Gary Keller a book to help you find Focus


What helps you decide what to focus on first in your writing career?


Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

A big thank you to our November sponsor of the month, Tammy Partlow! She’s a speaker at women’s retreats, and her debut novel Blood Beneath the Pines, a suspense set in the deep South, is now available. She’s hard at work on the second book of the series!

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast P.S. for their fabulous sound editing!


Want the latest news from Karen and Erin? Click here to join our newsletter and get an exclusive audio download.

177 – Get Focused! Part 1

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Get Focused Part 1 Write from the Deep Podcast with Karen Ball and Erin Taylor Young - We'll help you find the focus you need in your writing and life!Do you struggle to focus on your writing? You’re not alone. But you can regain the focus you need in your writing and your life. Come learn how!

But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

With the busyness our culture and our lives bring us each day, we have a multitude of things vying for our attention. And it’s not just for any given moment but also for any given season in our lives. Urgent demands and expectations badger us relentlessly. This can create a problem that we might not even be aware of as it’s happening: we lose focus. We get sidetracked from what we actually wanted to be doing. And it happens on both a large, life-level scale and a small, moment-by-moment scale.

What should get our time and attention, and what shouldn’t? That’s the question we want to help you answer, so we’re going to talk about focus. What it is, how we achieve it, and how we can maintain it. It’s a big topic so we’ll cover it in a series of episodes.

What is focus?

Let’s start by defining focus. Merriam-Webster tells us focus is:

1a : a center of activity, attraction, or attention

b: a point of concentration

2: directed attention.

In an article on James Clear’s website he writes, Experts define focus as the act of concentrating your interest or activity on something.” What I love about this definition is the idea of concentrating, Merriam-Webster mentioned that as well.

But how do we do that? James Clear goes on to say, In order to concentrate on one thing you must, by default, ignore many other things…Focus can only occur when we have said yes to one option and no to all other optionsin the present moment focus requires that you only do one thing.”

So tuning other things out is crucial to focusing. This is true both on a large scale and on a small scale. We’re going to cover both those scales, but for this episode we’ll concentrate on large scale focus.

Large Scale Focus

On a large scale, you might have trouble focusing on your writing career or on the book you’re currently trying to write if you have a day job that demands you to put in lots of overtime. Maybe you also have children or grandchildren at home who keep wanting stuff from you—like dinner, or a diaper change, or help with homework, or a ride to soccer practice, or a listening ear when things go wrong at school. That’s a lot to deal with.

Or maybe you’ve always wanted to go back to school yourself to finish a degree or get a postgraduate degree. Or maybe you really love being a Bible study leader at church, and they’ve asked you to teach more classes.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these things by themselves, but if you try to do them all in this season of your life, you’ve got a recipe for disaster. There are too many large scale objectives competing for your time, attention, and energy. You end up burned out and stressed, and more often than not, feeling like a failure. And it’s not because you’re a terrible person, it’s because you’ve given yourself an impossible mission. 

You’ve got to make some choices if you want to be able to focus on writing. Because the key is focus. Focus—concentration, directed attention—is necessary in order to work to the best of your ability. You can work poorly without focus, but you can’t work at your best level.

Please don’t hear us saying that you can’t be a good mom and a good writer. Or that you can’t have a demanding day job and still be a writer, or whatever. What we’re saying is that you’re limited in time and energy.

How many large scale things can you manage? Which things will that be?

Step one in achieving focus on a large scale is deciding how many large scale things you can reasonably manage, and which ones those will be. When it comes to writing, you have to decide whether writing that book or having some sort of writing career is in fact a goal right now. Whether it’s something you want to commit time and energy to, because that’s most likely going to come at the expense of something else. To say yes to one thing means you have to say no to other things.

Make a list of the things you’re already committed to, or that you want to commit to. It might help your list to be more thorough if you go through the various roles you play in your life. For example, maybe you’re a school teacher, a mom, a homeowner, a leader on your neighborhood association board, and a wife. 

  • How do you feel about those roles? 
  • Which are most important to you? 
  • What are the commitments involved in each role and how much time and energy do they take?

You’ve really got to dig into those questions. To help do that, you need to consider your values.

What are your values?

Your values are just what it sounds like: the things you value. The things you believe are important in life in the way you work, in the way you live, and even in the way you play. Some examples of values are: generosity, compassion, creativity, courage, discipline, justice, joy, teamwork, connection, vision.

Why is knowing your values important?  What you do with your time, and how you do it, needs to align with what you value. If they align, then you will experience satisfaction. If they conflict, you set yourself up for frustration and discontent. 

As Christians, it’s important that our values also align with what the Bible teaches. The Bible is, in essence, God’s “User Manual” for our lives. When we put it at the center of our focus, we can move forward with confidence. If we try to go against it? You guessed it.  We’re setting ourselves up for frustration and discontent.

We found some great resources about values on the internet. One is a worksheet that gives a short list of values and has some great questions to ponder to help you make decisions based on your values. 

Another resource has a more exhaustive list of values that you can look at. It’s nice to have a list of values to help stimulate your thinking. 

Identifying Your Values From Your Experiences

Another way that might help you define your values is to consider three different types of experiences in your life. It’s best to consider examples from both your personal life and your career life. This method comes from another article on the internet.

1) Think about the times you were happiest in your life. 

  • What were you doing?
  • Who were you with, if anyone?
  • Why were you happy? What factors influenced your happiness?

2) Think about the times you felt most proud.

We’re not talking about arrogance here, but rather pleasure in accomplishment, of doing your best, of doing the type of good works well done that God planned for us. 

  • Why did you feel proud?
  • What people shared your pride, if anyone?
  • Were there other factors that influenced your feelings of pride? What were they?

3) Think about times you felt most fulfilled or satisfied.

  • Identify what need or desire was fulfilled. Be specific.
  • Did this experience help give your life meaning? How? Why?
  • Were there other factors that contributed to your feelings of satisfaction? What were they?

The goal, remember, is to identify the things that are truly important to you. The things you value. Think about all those experiences you’ve had and identify the values they represent. You can use one of those lists of values that we linked to to help you. Remember that typically when you’re feeling a deep joy, fulfillment, and a feeling of godly accomplishment, you’re probably doing something that aligns closely with your values.

Values in conflict

For those of you who write fiction, thinking about values may be something you already do with your characters. You ask them what they value, or what they think is important in life and why. Do they value security, for example? And if so, how is that shown by what they do? Maybe your character chooses a career path that provides a high, steady income. Or maybe your character values freedom, so she buys an RV and travels the world working random odd jobs.

In fiction it’s always more interesting if your characters have values that bring conflict. What if your character values freedom but also values love? Now she has to decide between going on the road in her RV or becoming a wife to the man she’s fallen in love with, who must remain in the same town to care for his aging parents. She wants two roles: traveler and wife. Those roles highlight two different values: love and freedom. She can’t have them both. She has to make a difficult choice.

As fiction goes, real life can go, too. Conflict. Choices.

As you think about your values, you’ll find that, like our imaginary character, you have to rank which values are most important to you. It helps to ask yourself, “If I could satisfy only one of these values, which would I choose?”

That’s awful and doesn’t feel fair, but remember that achieving focus on a large scale means deciding not just how many large scale commitments you can reasonably manage, but which ones those will be. Most of us can’t do everything we want to in this life.

Do your commitments reflect your values?

Understanding your values is important because it’s easy to get sucked into commitments that aren’t our passion and don’t reflect what we value most. For example, what if you’re putting in a lot of extra hours at work because that’s the culture there, but those extra hours put you in line for a promotion to a job that is less creative than your current job. You might just drift into that promotion without stopping to think about why you’re working all that overtime and whether you actually want that promotion. 

What if, when you stop to think about your values, you realize you’re working those hours and following your work culture because community is something you value. There’s nothing wrong with that. Unless it turns out that creativity is something you value more than community. Now you have insight into why you’ve been working long hours, and you can make an informed choice about whether you really want to keep doing that. 

Or, what if you’ve been feeling frustrated and dissatisfied with your life because you haven’t been making any progress on the manuscript you’ve been working on? You’ve been too tired after working those long hours. Once you realize you value creativity, it’s even easier to understand your frustration. You may have thought you were frustrated by your lack of energy, when really the underlying problem is a lack of focus on what you value most.

This was a simple example, and we’re not saying that all writers do or should value creativity most highly. These are complicated issues, and they’re hard decisions. James Clear, in his article, says, “Most people don’t have trouble with focusing. They have trouble with deciding.”

Decisions Matter

The decisions you make about what you value and what you commit to matter a great deal. Those decisions become permission. Making a decision means you’ve given yourself permission to take the time to write, for example. You’ve given yourself permission to say no to everything else during that writing time and do just that one thing. Or to say no to that request to be on your neighborhood’s Welcome Wagon committee, or whatever is of lesser value to you. That’s how you foster focus on a large scale in your life.

We encourage you to make decisions like this prayerfully. And look at the way God has made you. You probably won’t get neon signs or a pristine career plan all laid out for you, but you will sense God’s direction if you’re seeking him. He’s not trying to make you guess. We’ve done two previous podcast episodes (episodes 110 and 111) specifically on hearing God if you’re looking for more help with that.

Keep in mind, too, that God has given us all the gift of creativity in some way, shape, or form because we’re made in his image. Writing is a great way for us to live in to the act of creating with God. Even if you haven’t heard a directive from God that “thou shalt write,” there isn’t anything wrong with making the decision to have writing be part of your life unless God is telling you not to, which he might in fact do. 

For more about the question of: “Did God really ask you to write,” we have a special audio recording on our Patreon page called “Did God Really Ask You to Write.” Bear in mind that you have to be a patron for at least one month to get access to that. 

Don’t be afraid to stop writing, or cut back, if that’s what you need to do. We’ve interviewed several writers who’ve felt God leading them in exactly that direction (episodes 152, 153, 171, 172). We encourage you to listen to those interviews for more discussion about that.

Reevaluating Decisions Matters

It’s also crucial to periodically reevaluate our decisions. That’s another way we maintain focus on the things that are important to us. We have to make sure those things are still important. Set aside time, maybe quarterly or semi-annually or whatever, to check in with yourself and see if what you’re doing still makes sense. If your passion is still there. If your values are the same—because those can and do change over time. Life is fluid. 

In your evaluation, ask yourself if you were realistic about the time and energy involved in the commitments you made. Check in with your family, your boss, or whoever is important to you as well. They may have differing opinions about how well you kept up with your responsibilities. Ask yourself if you can take on something new. Or should you expand one of your roles? Or does something have to be cut back or dropped altogether?

The Results

So, the most basic and simple way we develop focus on the largest scale, a “life-size scale,” is to make decisions based on our values about what will and won’t be part of our life. What we will and won’t focus on. Knowing our values, knowing Scripture, praying through our decisions, submitting them to God, all this helps us know why we’re doing what we’re doing, and helps us be sure we’re focusing on what matters most. Then, we maintain our focus by sticking to those decisions. 

In the next episode of our series on focus, we’ll talk about developing focus within your writing career. Between now and then, we encourage you to spend time working through these issues. Know your values, understand your decisions so that your life can have the focus you want it to have!

Too much going on in your life? Struggling to find focus? We can help! #amwriting #christianwriter Share on X
We want to hear from you!

What do you think is the biggest challenge to finding focus?


Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!

A big thank you to our November sponsor of the month, Tammy Partlow! She’s a speaker at women’s retreats, and her debut novel Blood Beneath the Pines, a suspense set in the deep South, is now available. She’s hard at work on the second book of the series!

Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast P.S. for their fabulous sound editing!


Want the latest news from Karen and Erin? Click here to join our newsletter and get an exclusive audio download.