What Do You Focus On?
So if you put your attention on how wonderful it is to write every day, that writing habit will grow. If you focus on how much fun it is to submit to agents (I'm feeling funny today), you'll do more of it. If you think about your novel when you're not writing, you'll spend more time on it. That's just the way of the world.
So, piece of cake, right? Just focus away and off you'll go.
Would that it was that simple. Because in reality the art of focus is incredibly complex, or at least we humans make it so.
It takes discipline and work to train your attention to writing every day. Usually, what happens in our brains is a thought process like this:
Oh my God, I didn't write today! I'm a lazy idiot! I can never get a writing habit going! I'll never finish my novel!
And then we're focusing on the exact condition we don't want to create–not writing.
Negative thoughts, like all forms of fear, are sneaky beasts. They can be so ingrained that they form a constant low-level litany of which we're barely aware as we go about out days. It's the proverbial vicious cycle: you think negative thoughts–>you create negative conditions–>and then you think more negative thoughts.
What's a writer to do to get her focus on the right things? Here are some suggestions:
1. Attentional Training. This is pretty much a fancy word for meditation that I learned in a book by Jonathan Fields. You can do any version of it you want: zazen, TM, insight mantra, or just close your eyes and take a few deep breathes throughout the day. Honestly, it's a pain in the butt, and it is helpful for every aspect of your life, including your creativity and your spirituality. If you're like me, you'll probably be convinced that you're not doing it right, but no matter how you do it, the practice really helps.
2. Active Attentional Training. And this is the same as above only, as the name implies, in an active fashion. So, it's when you are performing sports, or playing music, or, more to my tastes, knitting, sewing, weeding, even mowing the lawn (I do actually do that once in a while–with a push mower even). You're doing AAT when you're involved in a repetitive activity that does not require constant attention, or if you're engaging in an activity driven by speed, novelty, or intense bursts of concentration. A recent example of this for me was doing homework for a class I took at church last week. I had to read some fairly dense texts and process them mentally.
3. Eternal vigilance. Like I said earlier, it is a constant process. You have to watch and monitor your thoughts endlessly. But, they are your thoughts, and you are going to have them whatever you do, so you might as well work at turning negative ones into positive ones. It's a lot more pleasant than, say, rerunning the fight with your boyfriend all day.
4. Show up. What's the famous Woody Allen quote? Something along the lines of, "99% of success is showing up." So very true. If you keep showing up at your writing chair day after day after day you're training yourself to eventually start focusing. Because staring at a blank screen does get boring.
5. Respect the work. When we don't show up, when we don't focus our attention, we're not respecting the work, or ourselves. And what's the point of calling yourself a writer if you're not respecting your profession? Respecting the work leads to better focus and better focus leads to better work which leads to more respect. Another one of those cycles, this one not so vicious.
So, there you have it, some tips on focus. Got any of your own you'd like to share?
Photo by Julo, from Wikimedia commons.