Focus to the Finish

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. – Lao Tzu

A man recently wrote me, asking, “How does one begin to write a book?” My response: “One word at a time.”

But to do that one thing is key: focus.

I’m by nature a big-picture person, so I often become overwhelmed by the enormity of my vision. For example, I have had two memoirs in progress for the past several years, working only on them in fits and starts. As a result, neither one was even near completion, leaving me frustrated and discouraged. Then a webinar showed up in my inbox—twice—where I learned about the 7-Day Writing Challenge, created and offered by Shelley Hitz of, from March 26 through April 2. Since it showed up twice, I sensed that God was telling me that this was what I needed to develop a consistent daily writing habit—something I’ve been wanting to do for the past several months. And that it did. But it did even more than that. It also provided me with what I didn’t know I was lacking: focus.

This 7-Day Writing Challenge helped me to focus on only one of my memoirs as well as provided me with two of the best tools to not only focus on my writing itself but also to establish a daily writing habit: 1) commit to writing 15 to 30 minutes each day, and 2) set a timer at each session.

During the challenge, I wrote consistently every day, 30 minutes for 6 of those days and one hour for one of them. At each session, the time flew and the words flowed. At the end of the challenge, I had written 5,133 words for my memoir, the equivalent to one to one and a half chapters. And since the challenge has ended, I’ve written another 3,453 words. That’s a total of 8,586 words for my memoir—the bulk of which has been swimming around in my head, begging to be written for years—and I’m now almost to the finish line in only two and a half weeks! See what focus can do?

I have always set a timer to edit in one-hour increments. This allows me to focus on my task without the distraction of keeping track of the time. When my alarm goes off, I stop editing and move away from the computer and do something completely unrelated. This gives my mind, eyes, and body a much-needed break from the intensity of mentally processing and scrutinizing everything I’m reading while sitting in one spot, staring at the computer screen. Why it never occurred to me to set a timer for my writing time, I don’t know. But it works like a charm for editing and so it does for writing. And now I can do both! Before, I found it very difficult, if not impossible, to write after editing all day since editing is a left-brained activity and writing is a right-brained one. So my writing was shoved to the back seat, which did not make my right-brained writer self happy or get either of my memoirs written. Through this 7-Day Writing Challenge, however, I discovered that setting my timer for the amount of time I’ve committed to writing that day helps me make the hemisphere switch from left to right with ease. I don’t know how, but it does. Now I can edit and nurture my own writing on the same day! Yay! I can work and play!

No matter how busy my day may be, sitting down and writing for only 15 to 30 minutes is definitely doable. And I promise it is for you too. Just give it a try, and let me know what you find out. I think you’ll be as amazed as I am, and very pleased with your results.

So “How does one begin to write a book?” Sit down with pen, pencil, paper, or computer, set your timer for 15 to 30 minutes (more if you choose), and write—one word at a time.