To 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…
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.