Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Stay in Your 3-Foot World by Marie Wells Coutu

Marie Wells Coutu
Distractions are a writer’s nightmare.

When staring at a blank screen, my mind will focus on a zillion thoughts other than my story. My kids or grandkids, the sad state of the culture, the weeds in the yard, what to fix for dinner, how to promote my next book, and on and on. Each issue prevents me from moving forward with my current writing project.

Surprisingly, former Navy Seal Mark Owen provides an answer in his book, No Hero. While he refers to the challenges of conducting covert missions in dangerous situations, I believe his philosophy can apply to authors, as well.

Stay in your three-foot world.


Owen learned this while scaling a hundred-foot rockface. He became paralyzed when he started to look around, worried about running out of handholds, and thought about how far he still had to climb.

As a writer, if you’re like me, you not only get distracted by the trials of everyday life, but you also begin to obsess over when you’ll find an agent, how you’ll ever get to “The End” for this story, and what your next book will be about. None of those concerns help you with writing this novel.

What does it mean to stay in your “three-foot world”?



Focus on what is right in front of you, right now. Owen says you need to assess, prioritize, act, and forget.

  1. Assess your situation. Where are you in your writing career or in your current work-in-progress? If you have yet to finish your first novel, don’t get sidetracked by trying to get an agent. (Confession: I did this, and in the long run, it did not help my career.) If you are already published, don’t let comparison with more famous authors discourage you from being the best writer you can be.

  2. Prioritize. What is most important for you to focus on today, this hour, this minute? If you have an established writing time, use that time to write, not to check Facebook, plan dinner, or fret over the coming election. Find ways to limit interruptions from the family (not easy, I know!). And prioritize your writing tasks. If you need to finish the first draft, put that first, before “perfecting” the first chapter. If you are in the middle of the second, third, or thirteenth draft, identify which elements need work (part of Assessing) and list them by priority.

  3. Act on one item at a time. Some people may be able to multi-task—work on your characters while planting flowers—but few can concentrate on book promotion, helping with kids’ homework, and fixing the sagging middle all at the same time. Once you’ve prioritized, you know which item to focus on first. Then…

  4. Forget all the other concerns. Some things don’t immediately affect you--that other writer won a contest and you didn’t, but his or her success does not prevent you from improving as a writer; none of the presidential candidates seem worthy of your vote, but you don’t have to make a decision today; schedule an appointment about that funny noise in the car, but forget about it until then. Other issues will affect you, but you have little opportunity to make an impact on them right now—the state of the publishing industry, finding the right agent, building your platform. These are important, and as a professional writer, you should learn about them. But, if they are lower on your priority list, then forget about them while you work on one item at a time.

Your three-foot box will shift and move as you progress in your writing career, just as Owen’s “box” moved up the rock wall as he climbed. But focusing on what’s in the box right now, and eliminating or reducing other distractions, will help you climb faster, instead of becoming overwhelmed and paralyzed.


How has prioritizing your writing tasks helped you improve your focus?


About the author

About the Author

Marie Wells Coutu began telling stories soon after she learned to talk. At age seven, she convinced neighborhood kids to perform a play she had written. She wrote her first book, “I Came from Venus,” in eighth grade, but studied journalism in college. After a career writing for newspapers, magazines, governments, and nonprofits, she returned to her first love—writing fiction—at the age of fifty-five. Her debut novel, For Such a Moment, won the Books of Hope Contest. Thirsting for More, the second book in the Mended Vessels series, released in April 2015. Books in the series are contemporary re-imaginings of the stories of biblical women, including Esther and the woman at the well. Marie retired after 15 years with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and she and her husband now divide their time between Florida and Iowa.

Thirsting for More
by Marie Wells Coutu

Thirsting for More


Northern transplant Victoria Russo moves to the charming southern city of Charleston, South Carolina, from cold Connecticut, hoping to renovate her career, her life, and an old house. Instead, she faces animosity, betrayal, and calamity. Will she repeat the pitfalls of her past mistakes, or find the freedom and restoration she seeks?

4 comments:

  1. I agree, Sandi. When I read Owen's book, I immediately thought how much it applies to writers and, really, all aspects of life! Thanks for commenting.

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  2. Very helpful post, Marie! Thanks for sharing this wisdom.

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