Tag Archives | distraction

The Secret to Writing More Than You Ever Thought Possible

Cartoon guy with crayonTo get more writing done, you could get up earlier, or stay up later.  To get more writing done you could close the door to your office and post a sign threatening death and dismemberment to anyone who enters.  You could escape to the coffee shop or go on a retreat. You could run away from home or refuse to leave it.

All of those are great ideas for getting writing done.  But none of them are worth the powder to blow them to hell without this one thing.  And so, da da da dum….the secret to getting more writing done than you ever thought possible is…wait for it…

Focus!

I swear, in this day and age, focus is more precious than a king's treasures.  We have so many distractions pressing in on us all day, every day.  (For an amazing infographic that shows how much data is created every minute on the internet, click here.) And it's not just the internet. Some of us have families. (And don't think for a minute that once your kids are grown up, their distractions end. Ha! Then the grandchildren come along and it starts all over again.) Some have demanding jobs.  Or farms to manage. Or marathons to run.

All of these things combine to make focus a rare and twinkling jewel that is often hard to attain.  And since I am one of the most distractible humans on the planet (bright shiny object!) I have made a study of practices and techniques and even pills (yes, pills) that will help.  These are lessons learned the hard way, by me, the Queen of Beguilement. So here we go:

1. Know where you're going.  If you don't follow any of the other tips listed here, try this one.  It is the one that makes the most difference for me, hands down.  If I know what I'm going to write next, I'll get to the page and write it.  If I don't know, I stray onto the internet and before I know it, my time for writing is done.  A confused brain is a wandering brain.

2. Timed writing sprints.  Life saving.  Use the timer on your smart phone or find an app on the computer.  Set it for a pre-allotted period of time and then write and do nothing else until the timer goes off.  Then get up and walk around-sitting too long isn't good for you.  (Or get a stand-up desk.  I just did.) Start with 30 minutes and see how that works.  I've been working with 30-45 minute sprints.

3.  Remember, the writer is the one who stays in the room.  Last May, my daughter and I went to Seattle for the weekend.  We spent one glorious afternoon ensconced at a table at Elliott Bay Books.  She read design books and I read books on writing.  I perused a book by an author whose name escapes me and what impressed me was his quote, something to the effect that the writer is the one who stays in the room.  Because, I know I'm guilty of writing a sentence and then allowing myself to get distracted in the name of thinking.  Pay attention to how you work, you might find the same thing. So stay in the room.  This is actually a mindful practice that gets easier over time.

4. Chunk it down.  Sit down to write a book and you'll get totally overwhelmed.  But tell yourself that all you have to write is one paragraph–or one sentence–and that is something you can do.  So break your writing up into doable sections.  Remember what Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird–she keeps a small picture frame by her desk to remind herself that all she has to write is what she can see through the frame.

5.  Try a probiotic.  Here's that pill I promised you.  The good organisms that grow in your gut have a direct impact on your brain, and if you don't have a healthy stomach, you might have trouble focusing.  There's been a ton of research on this coming out recently.  You can read one article here

6.  Cultivate healthy thinking habits. When I'm stuck, or just need to think for a minute, I convince myself that taking a brief break on the internet will benefit me.  Ha! There's a rabbit hole, for sure.  What does work is for me to get up and walk around the house, or step outside for a minute.  It works for me to knit a row or two, or go put a load of laundry in the washing machine, or drink a glass of water.  I need to remember these healthy habits and use them instead of the unhealthy ones.

7.  Remember your passion.  A passionate mind is a focused mind.  When was the last time you were so engaged in a project that time passed and you were unaware of it?  That's focus at its highest level.  And passion can take you there.

8.  Meditate.  I hate this one, but it works, if for no other reason than it calms your mind.  And a calm mind is a focused mind.  I'm an on-again, off-again meditator, and I've probably not ever done it long enough at one stretch to really reap the full benefits of it, but I know when I do do it how much it helps.

9.  Get your ya-yas out.  Otherwise known as journaling.  When your brain is full of things you have to do, people you're holding grudges against, or other minutia of daily life, it is not a well-functioning brain.  It is an overloaded brain.  One way to deal with this is to dump it all on the page.  Journal first thing in the morning or last thing at night.  Use your journal as a brain dump, putting it all out there so your mind doesn't have to deal with it.

10.  Keep a notepad, scratch paper or index cards next to your computer.  When you have an idea that distracts you–a thought for a different part of the project, something you forgot to do, an item to add to the grocery list–note it and carry on with your writing.  Then make a time to go through all your jottings and deal with it accordingly.  This is an enormously helpful practice.

So those are my hard-won ideas about focus, what are yours?

Photo by julosstock.

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How to Write While Traveling (Or Otherwise Distracted): 7 Strategies

JournalAugust2015

The best travel journal ever

I am distracted. My thoughts, I will admit, are on Europe these days.  Because, I WILL BE THERE IN LESS THAN TWO WEEKS.  So I am distracted.  And when I am there I will be distracted.  (Because, Barcelona, people.  Paris.  Collioure.)  

And yet, I am still doing my best to write regularly. Why? Because I am a masochist.  No, really, its because I feel weird when I'm not writing.  Antsy.  A little anxious.  Like something is missing in my life.  Like my best friend is gone. (I felt this way for a year after I quit smoking but that's another story.)

I just feel better when I am writing, period.

You may be distracted, too.  By summertime travel.  Or small children (as I used to be 24-7 for what seemed an eternity and now am again whenever my beloved grown children can cajole me to babysit their children, which is, ahem, often). Or those pesky day jobs.  Or caring for an aging parent.  Or any number of the things that we deal with in life.

I know plenty of people who just set their writing aside when they get overwhelmed with distraction. But I'm here to advocate that you do not do this.  Because time is precious, and short. Because if you set your writing project aside, when you return to it, you'll have to spend lots of that precious time getting yourself up to speed.  And because, writers write.  Period.

So how shall we manage when the baby wakes up at 3 AM crying, or the hospital calls to tell you your mother has just arrived in the ER again, or you have to stay at work until 11 to finish something? Or you just might get to go to an exotic foreign land?  Here's how:

Use what you've got in front of you.  When you're traveling, this is obvious.  Everything is bright and shiny and new and different and it is relatively easy to write about it.  But it might not be so evident with the less positive distractions in your life.  So, write about how exhausted you are as the mother of a newborn, how worried you are about your parent, how much you loathe your job.  Of such conflicts many books have been born.

Take advantage of odd bits of time. Because, they may be all you have.  So maybe you've got a chunk of time while you are riding the high-speed train from Paris to Perpignan but you fall asleep because you're so jet-lagged so you only end up having twenty minutes.  Or you have fifteen minutes in the morning when you wake up before the rest of the house.  I know it doesn't seem like much, but let me share a little secret: I get more done with I have less time.  On the days when I have all day to write I fart around.  I tell myself I've got plenty of time to get to it and so I don't.  But if I know I only have thirty minutes, chop chop, I'm at the page.

Carry pen and paper with you everywhere.  Because you never know when you'll have a window of opportunity open up.  (Get a load of my adorable new carry-around-in-my-travel-bag journal above.)  Maybe there will be a bit of time when you arrive to pick your daughter up from soccer practice early.  (I knew a woman who wrote a novel this way.) Whip out your pen and paper.   You know the drill.  But it is worth reminding you because recently I found myself without a pen, which was a shocking state of affairs.

Remind yourself why you love writing.  And why it is important to you.  And thus why you are going to take just a few–a very few minutes–out of the 1440 we have every day to engage in it.  I can't answer this for you, but you can.  And while you are busy doing so, you might also write about–or ponder–why you love the project you're working on.

Quit worrying about not writing.  Because, what you resist, persists.  What you focus on grows. So stop worrying about not writing and use that energy to write.  A brief story: when my son, now a strapping man with a great job and the most adorable little girl in the whole history of the world, was a child, he used to complain and moan about cleaning his room.  And I always told him that if he just put the energy he was using to whine into cleaning, his room would be finished in a jiffy.  I think a lot of us are like that.  We spend so much time thinking about why we're not doing something, we forget we could be using that time to do it.

Just take notes.  Or make lists of things you want to remember.  Years ago, on a trip to Mexico, I made lists of the things I wanted to remember: the way the jungle pressed in on the resort, the flamingoes in the pool by the lobby bar (where they made the good, strong drinks), the terror I felt as I tried paragliding.  I didn't have time to journal, but I took good notes.  And came home and wrote a story about it, which you can actually read here.

If all else fails, have yourself a good think.  You're gazing out the window of the plane.  Think about your plot.  You're rocking the baby in the middle of the night.  Figure out your main character's backstory.  You're sitting by a hospital bed.  Ponder deep themes.  I believe that thinking is highly underrated for writers.  But the trick is to keep your brain on the plot, not the glass of wine and delicious dinner you're going to have when you get to Paris.

Those are my suggestions.  What about you?  How do you deal with distractions?  Leave a comment!

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Overcoming a Bad Writing Session

I had a lousy writing session the other day.  I roused myself early and got right to the computer (well, after my first-thing-in-the-morning glass of water with apple cider vinegar and Stevia and then, of course, coffee).  But nothing happened.  I just couldn't seem to connect with my WIP.

Usually this would be cause for beating myself up.  And it was, at first.  I told myself I was stupid, lazy, a dumb jerk for reading trivial internet stories rather than writing. But then I realized something–this attitude wasn't helping.

I know, duh.

But when you're in it–when you are deeply ensconced in a beating-yourself-up session, it can be difficult to pull yourself out of it.   And furthermore, one bad writing session can derail you for days, weeks even. So I decided I better try to nip it in the bud.  And instead of continuing the beating session, I tried to figure out why the writing didn't go well.

Here's what I came up with:

1.  I was distracted.  I know, distraction is pretty much a state of being in our constantly-connected, social media world.  But yesterday it was even worse than usual.  I'd spent the weekend updating my Mac's operating system, and for reasons unclear to me was not able to update Firefox as well.  So I downloaded Chrome (which I now love) and that created all kinds of changes and the necessity for more updating, including locating passwords, which I continued to uncover as I opened pages and signed in.  

2.  I didn't know where I was going.  I'd finished one chapter, and was starting on the next.  But, it's early on in this project, and because I'm excited about it, I've not yet taken the time to do the prep work I usually do–create character dossiers, write about settings, figure out a loose outline for the plot.  I thought the momentum of finishing chapter one would carry me through, but because I didn't know what happened next, I got stalled.

3.  I wasn't fully committed.  I wrote recently about being torn between two loves.  I decided to allow myself to write the first chapter of this new project–it was begging to come out–and then see how I felt.  I felt good about it, really good, excited in a way I haven't been with my other novel.  But I also felt guilty about abandoning it.  (Although, as we know, nothing is ever wasted in writing.  It will be waiting for me when I finish this one, or it will be incorporated into something else.) So I was still waffling about whether to move forward with it–not conducive to writing.

I felt much better after analyzing what happened, because I could see that it wasn't because I was a lazy, distractable person, but that there were real reasons for my bad writing session.  And because there were real reasons, I could change them in the future.

Which I did.  This morning.  And got right back to it.  

What stops you from a good writing session?

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When You’re Distracted From Your Writing

Pencil-tapping-distractor-213269-hLast week was tough: the bombing in Boston, explosion in Texas, the shootout and manhunt for the Boston suspects, earthquake in China, on and on.

I was horrified, and spent much of my day sending prayers and good thoughts to all those affected–and I was riveted to the news. 

Some people turn off the TV and internet in such situations.  Not me–I'll have the TV on and be sitting in front of it with my computer, checking both.  Following the news and gathering information is how I process awful events. 

(I'm pretty sure I got this from my Dad–he was always the first one out the door to see what was going on when a siren sounded and he was known to take his daughters to observe big news events like fires, several of which I remember vividly to this day.)

But sitting in front of the television does not get the writing done.  And even when I turned it off and repaired to my office, it was challenging to turn off the thoughts about what was happening.  Or stop myself from looking up the latest updates on the interwebs.

What's a writer to do?

I have a few ideas:

1.  Know thyself.  Are you, like me, someone who needs to know what is going on?  Or do you thrive when you are oblivious?  If the latter, turn things off.  Period.  If the former, try setting time limits–15 minutes of browsing the news and then its off to work for an hour.

2.  Ground yourself.  Nothing changes your demeanor–emotional and physical–by taking a few deep breaths.  You can do this anytime, anywhere throughout the day.  (The trick, of course, is remembering to do it.)  When you get upset, breathe deeply and return to work.

3.  Feel what you're feeling.  In our rush to make ourselves feel better (and get back to work) we sometimes suppress our true feelings.  This might make us feel better for awhile, but, alas, those feelings have a tendency to pop up all over again if we don't deal with them.

4.  Inhale love and light.  This is a variant of #2.  With your feet flat on the ground, visualize rays of golden light coming in through your feet up to your heart.  Now imagine golden rays of light coming in through your crown chakra and meeting in your heart.  You can then use this to nourish yourself in a time of need or send loves to others who are in distress.  (I'm not sure where this came from originally, but I got it from Anne Presuel.)

5.  Connect with others.  Yeah, I know.  You're supposed to be writing.  But are you getting any writing done while you sit there and fret?  I think not.  You might do better to take a bit of time to call or email a friend, or get on social media, and process some of your feelings.

I've written on this before, because it's an issue that constantly pops up.  Other posts I've done on this topic:

Dealing with Distraction

How to Keep Writing Through Holidays and Other Distractions

Do you have a favorite way to deal with distraction?  You'd be helping all of us out if you shared it in the comments.

 Photo by Rennett Stowe.

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