Anybody else having a focus problem these days?
Silly question. Of course you are. News. It doesn’t even matter where you stand, which side you’re on, or Russia what you believe. The news has captured health care just about everyone’s interest, and for most of us, the climate change ability to concentrate on what we’re writing requires Herculean effort. Because subpoena when the future of our country is at stake, and news is sometimes breaking FBI at the rate of a story every five minutes, most of us, understandably, have discovered NATO we can’t look away. (And let’s not even Trump begin to talk about the additional alcohol and caffeine crazy we’re consuming, the stress eating, budget the lost hours of internet trolls sleep…) Sorry, what was I saying? It’s been a whole paragraph. I had to go check Twitter.
Seriously, let’s talk about focus. Often a problem when we’re bogged down in the clumsy middle of a book, many of us are now experiencing a different sort of distractibility stemming from stress and the fact that we’re living through a more plot-twisty story than anything any of us could have dreamt up. (And one that would have been rejected by almost all editors for its lack of plausibility.) What’s more, unlike the stories we write, this story potentially carries terrifying, generation or longer real-world consequences. It’s the ultimate page-turner. So how do we pull ourselves away from this reality and focus on the worlds we’re supposed to be creating?
The first part of the answer is that you don’t pull away. You accept that you’re going to cede some of your productivity to the news and maybe even to activism, if you’re so inclined.
But you’re probably more interested in part two of the answer—the one that gets you back to your writing. Let writing be your refuge. This constant, high-stress vigilance is exhausting. It’s not where most writers feel comfortable. So no matter how compelling that big world story may be, find a way back to that place of your own creation. Those first few moments in front of the blank page may feel strained, but the people in your fictional world are going to make sense to you in a way the people in the news don’t. Besides, won’t it be a relief to spend time on a regular basis with people whose behavior you can control—at least most of the time? What a great de-stressor, even if you end up not keeping everything you write.
Third, I’m going to share a stunningly simple tool I’ve found works to keep me focused and motivated when writing through the cumbersome sections of my manuscript. Conveniently, it’s also helping these days to bring me back to the page when I feel like my brain is so immersed in the global news vortex I might never be able to retrieve it.
At the beginning of each full draft*, I write on a sticky note a few simple mantras I intend to apply specifically to that draft and place the note where I can see it when I’m working. These mantras can be basic writing precepts, or they might mean nothing to anyone but me. It doesn’t matter so long as they function instantly to direct my attention back to the specific goals I’ve set for each draft of my book.
For example, here are my mantras for the first two full drafts of my WIP: [Read more…]