I am a writer who has earned her living writing and teaching storytelling for many many years, so you would think I would be a whiz at getting my work done. Work being, writing.
Sigh. I so envy those creators who can sit at their desk, tune out the world, and produce amazing copy, stories, or art. I cannot.
My mind wanders. Gmail keeps whispering in my ear “you need to read this right now,” I have three newsfeeds on the screen, and my sonos speaker just broke so I can’t even put on brown noise to help me concentrate.
If it sounds like I’m complaining, no, I’m whining. Just like every other writer I know.
You may be asking, if it’s so hard to be a writer, why make it your career ?
The answer is easy: when you get in The Flow and your fingers are typing on their own, it feels like flying. You are thinking, solving problems, posing questions, getting your work done.
Over the years I have relied on a few tried and true methods to get my brain focused and find my way to The Flow. Try one of these and let me know if it works for you.
It All Starts With A Timer
3 minutes. That’s what we usually give Story Mode workshop students to answer a creative writing prompt. It works well because of that sense of urgency—I only have 3 minutes! When you’re pressed for time, you magically put your head down and produce a lot of words and ideas.
When I’m on deadline (more on these later), I usually start the timer with 15 minutes and when my fingers are warmed up, I go to 30 minutes. Never more than that. I know this about myself: I can read a great book for hours on end without moving, but thinking is hard. And since writing is thinking, I can only do it in 30 minute shifts.
We all need them. Writers most of all.
Deadlines work just like timers, although instead of appreciating the urgency of only having three minutes to get the story out, deadlines give us stomachaches as we watch the days and hours dwindle without writing a word.
I often tell my students that even if you are not physically writing, you’re probably still working out the problem in your head, laying the foundation of whatever it is you have to write. By the time you really start to get freaked out about that deadline, you’ve gotten what you want to say organized in your mind so then it’s just a matter of typing out the words.
Would that it were always that easy! Yet, I never miss client deadlines (nor do most of the writers I know.)
Anger…I mean, Passion
Emotion. This is a crucial element that we don’t always stop to appreciate. Probably because when we’re writing for work, it’s easy to assume that emotion shouldn’t be part of the equation.
I’m writing this post in a mini-rage because I am furious with myself for wasting time the past several months. But, like when I’m on deadline, I’ve been turning around this “focus” issue in my head for a couple weeks so when I finally sat down today, the thoughts flowed easily.
Anger can be a useful emotion, one that is guaranteed to spur us to action. I hope anger doesn’t make an appearance for you too often. Yet sometimes it is just what we need. If you sit down at your desk and write an angry diatribe to figure out what is really bothering you, perhaps you’ll surprise yourself and find the answer. (Plus, just because you write it down doesn’t mean anyone else has to read it!)
To Wrap Up, Get Your Butt In The Chair
I have now written several hundred words on how hard it is for me to focus long enough to write that many sentences. I could do this because I:
1. have been thinking about this for a few days
2. put my butt in a chair
3. opened my laptop
4. pulled up a blank screen
5. poured out my thoughts without worrying about what words popped out