Because when you are focused in the moment, you are connected with your work. You’re not thinking about the past, the 100th rejection you just got on your novel, or how the essay you’re working on refuses to come together.
You’re not thinking about the future—where you will submit this story, what your agent will think of it, if it gets rejected again.
You are in the moment, right here, right now just you and the computer, or typewriter, or pen and paper. And in that moment, there is no fear. Just you, putting words on the page.
Ah, but here’s the rub: it is fear itself that stops us from focusing.
I separate fears into two levels.
The first level is the obvious stuff, the things we let distract us. We fear we will miss something if we don’t check Facebook first thing in the morning. That we have to answer that text or phone call right now. That the email we’ve been waiting for might have come in, so it is imperative to check one more time. That one quick game of Spider Solitaire (or insert your favorite) will relax your mind.
But then we get to the second-level fears, the really juicy stuff. Fear that what we are writing isn’t good enough. Fear it won’t accomplish our goals for it. (Best-selling novel! Article published in the New York Times! Short story accepted by the New Yorker!) Fear that all the hours alone in the room will come to naught. Fear that family will read the completed memoir and get angry. I could go on and on but I don’t need to, because I’m pretty sure you can insert your own special fear in a hot second.
The thing is, it is most often these deeper fears, the second level stuff, that leads us to first level activities. It is ever so much easier to read emails and cruise around social media first thing in the morning than it is to concentrate on your current work in progress. And, worse, as a writer, you can, convince yourself that it is vitally necessary for you to do all these things. You’re building your platform, after all. Keeping up with what’s going on in your field (we have to know everything about marketing and publishing now, of course).
And the really funny thing is that once you get to the page and start throwing words at it, you likely will be so absorbed that you’ll forget all your fears. You just have to get there and you have to give yourself a few minutes at it to sink in.
So, I’m telling you focus is it, baby. If you’re struggling with it (and I do all the time), here’s some suggestions for you:
- Call yourself out. Don’t tell yourself you’re researching when you’re looking at cat videos. Tell it like it is—you’re wasting time and distracting yourself from what you should be doing. Or:
- .Observe yourself. If you’re really in a distractible phase, #1 might be too much. The other technique is to just start observing what you are doing. Oh isn’t this interesting, I got distracted by ________ again. The idea is that when you catch yourself doing it over and over again, eventually you’ll want to change your behavior.
- Build in breaks. If you really, truly must watch those cat videos give yourself time to do it—after you’ve finished your writing.
- Don’t rely on shadow comforts. I believe Jennifer Louden coined this term, and the first time I read it I knew exactly what she meant. A shadow comfort is mindlessly surfing the internet or whatever your distraction of choice is. It may be your default that you turn to when you are stuck in your writing or don’t know what else to do.
- Do things that feed you. Take a break and do the crossword puzzle, or go knit a few rows. Pet your cat (I say that because one of mine has just taken up residence between me and my computer). Walk around the block. Whatever you do, make it intentional. It may be cat videos, and if so go for it. But decide what works for you ahead of time.
- Do timed sprints. I tend to forget about and rediscover this technique all the time. When I’m doing it, I love it. Set your timer for an amount of time you’d like to totally focus. Mine is 25 minutes. Then focus only on the task at hand for those minutes. When the timer goes off, take a break. Get up and walk around, stretch, grab a glass of water. And then start over.
- Download Freedom. It will disable the internet on your computer for however long you tell it. A wonderful tool, worthy of its name, and the basic plan is free.
- Don’t even think about multi-tasking. Think you’re good at it? You’re wrong. Read this article and your mind will change.
What are your favorite ways to find focus and defeat fear? Please share below, or hit reply and email me. And now please excuse me, but I’ve got a date with a game of Spider Solitaire.
Photo by dbking.