For Writers

More Thoughts on Focus

Continuing from yesterday’s article on staying focused ..

Do I do anything special to jog my brain into writing mode before I start writing?

My answer at the time:

Well, I used to. One of the things I’ve realized recently is that when I became a full-time writer, I lost some of the unconscious cues I gave myself that used to work so well. I used to get up every morning and go to work. Then I came home and spent time with my children until 9:00.

At 9:00, they were on their own to get ready for bed and I began to write. They were not to interrupt me for anything that didn’t include blood, but they could come in to kiss me good-night. They pushed the envelope at first — after all, my youngest was only 5. But that was old enough, and she quickly learned that I meant what I said.

alarm clockI got up every Saturday and Sunday morning at 5:00 and wrote until the kids woke up and needed my attention. Note that I said woke up AND needed my attention because waking up did not automatically mean they needed my attention immediately. Like I said, my youngest was 5 then. She was old enough to watch cartoons for a little while and she could even fix herself a bowl of cereal (as long as the milk carton wasn’t full.)

My oldest was much older, and very self-sufficient, so if she ever woke up before the little one lost interest in cartoons, she could help entertain her sister. Not that she did. My oldest loved to sleep and the little one didn’t, so I encouraged my youngest to become more self-sufficient.

Anyway, that gave me at least four uninterrupted hours every Saturday and Sunday morning, and sometimes more. I did not allow myself to clean house, etc., until after my writing hours were over. There was plenty of time to mop the floor, but there wasn’t plenty of quiet time to write.

Once I began to write full-time, I must have unconsciously believed that I had unlimited writing time, even though I knew logically that I didn’t, so I let guilt begin to niggle at me because it started feeling mean to tell the kids they couldn’t interrupt me when I was working. Time wasn’t so precious anymore, I guess.

Little by little, I let the distractions creep in, so I’m just now in the process of developing habits again and mind-cues to let myself know it’s time to work. I still get up at 5:00, and I spend at least one hour working on things for the writing classes I teach.

After that, I allow myself an hour for RWA things (I was serving on the board of directors at the time). After that, I spend 30 minutes on my spiritual well-being. Then I know it’s time to work. If I don’t time myself on the class and RWA stuff, though, it can easily get away from me.

It’s 11:00 now and that’s obviously not RWA time. Shame on me!!! Proof positive that I don’t have it down to a science yet! But do I light candles and things like that? No. I’ve tried doing that, but it doesn’t seem to send any signals to my brain except fear that the cats will knock over the candle and start the apartment on fire! Music helps. I do try to do that because it does help set the mood.

My answer now: 

scheduleI’m still struggling to create a schedule I can stick to. Just when I think I’ve got it, something real life happens and it’s impossible to stick to the schedule. Recently, I spent three weeks in Missouri taking care of my grandchildren while my youngest daughter was out of town for a wedding and I realized all over again how difficult it is to make and stick to a schedule with small children around.

For the past two weeks, I’ve had to take three hours out of every work day to shuttle my daughter to and from work. We live in an area where there’s no mass transit, so when her car broke down, mom taxi became the only option.

On the plus side, getting up and dressed and out the door at a certain time every morning has made me focus on what I need to do when I get home again, so I’ve accomplished almost as much in my shorter work day as I usually do when I have all sorts of time stretched out in front of me.

The difference has been so marked, in fact, that I have decided to create a daily commitment to get up and dressed and a commute for myself on work days once I’m no longer playing taxi. I’m hoping that a drive to the local convenience store and the purchase of a beverage of my choice every morning will help my brain click into work mode as I drive back home.

As appealing as the concept of working in my pajamas may be in theory, my brain, accustomed to being in the work force for more than half my lifetime, reacts to pajamas at home as a day off. I can frequently glance at the clock and realize I’ve frittered away the entire morning without realizing it.

Music is no longer a help to me. Since my youngest daughter had a frightening bout with depression during her senior year in high school, music makes me nervous and fidgety, so it doesn’t help me write anymore.

For a while, thanks to health concerns, it was almost physically impossible to focus, and that’s a whole different set of challenges, especially when you have contractual obligations to be creative.

I guess the thing is, focus is something we’ll all have to struggle with and the struggle will take on new and different shapes in different seasons of our lives. Sometimes it may be a case of mind over matter, and giving yourself physical cues that it’s time to work, like turning on the music or moving into your special writing space, may do the trick.

pen and paper
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If you don’t currently have a space dedicated to writing, think about creating one. Not everyone has the luxury of space for a home office, but moving to the same corner of the dining room table at the same time every day could help your mind realize it’s time to create.

When physical health issues aren’t a problem, try not to let your muse dictate when you write. You’ll always be able to find excuses for not writing. Those are much easier to come by than the determination to write. Get words on the page, even if they’re stupid words you know you’ll delete or revise later.

Sometimes simple discipline, or BICHOK (Butt in chair, hands on keyboard) is the answer.




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