Hi, everyone. It's Lisa today and I have a problem that I share with one of my characters and probably many other writers out there. Keira is a lyrical dancer who has many things on her mind. During one of her performances, she is thinking of her grandfather dying, her mother's inconsiderate delivery of said information, making the right steps in her routine, ignoring her internal drum that doesn't come close to matching the beat of the music everyone else hears at the recital...she's having a hard time. She tells herself "focus!" repeatedly. But just like everyone else under the stars, telling yourself to focus doesn't quite do the trick. Keira's lack of focus is a lot like mine when I either want to write or I've actually sat down to write. So, let's make a deal. I'll tell you some of the things that help me focus in hopes that something in my list will help you, but this is a give and take post, okay? Okay. Be nice and tell me some of your focusing secrets too.
1. The first of my problems when it comes to focus is the area in which I'm trying to write.
If it's not at least a little tidy, my mind can't be tidy either. If it's really bad, and you can't see wasting time to really give it an overhaul, maybe stuff it all under the bed or behind the chair you're sitting in. Maybe if you can't see it, then it won't keep diverting your attention to it. No? Then straighten up.
2. The second problem is people, whether they be online, in person, on the phone - people divert me often. How I combat the in-person distractions is headphones or earbuds. I prefer the headphones as they look more official and/or intimidating to the person about to interrupt you. Plus, they tend to shut out extraneous noises too. These headphones or earbuds serve yet another purpose which I'll tell you later. As for the digital "person" interruptions - turn it off. Turn you cell phone to vibrate, don't look at text messages. If it's an emergency, that person will call when texting doesn't get your attention. Not only does that keep you have having unnecessary interruptions but it also keeps your focus on the task at hand. What I mean is if you decide to quickly read that text, it could be something that isn't so easily forgotten. It could be something that wiggles at the back of your mind, messing with your focus. Let the little "wiggling" wait until later. As far as the online people alerting you with their bells and whistles - turn those off. You can turn off the IMing alerts on Facbook, Twitter, etc. Do it. Your writing is important. Even better, turn off internet. It's a simple button that you can undo later. It's F8 on my computer, and I'm sure you have something just as simple though I believe it's a pretty universal thing. If it's not F8, then it's at least got a tower with curved parenthesis-like lines on either side of it. That's internet signal radiating off of it, if you were wondering, threatening to make you lose focus.
3. Choose the sounds you allow to enter you brain wisely. Some people think no sound at all is best.
Okay, back to the "no sound at all" notion. The reason I'm not a subscriber to this is because unless your house is totally empty and you live in the middle of nowhere, there is talking, television, radio, a dog, people on the sidewalk, things that are making noises and distracting you. It's easier to tune them out when there is a different noise in your ear, just make sure it's a noise that will make you churn out words like a beast!
Now it's your turn. Share your secrets on how to focus.
Dan: Oh, what a fascinating topic! I should admit up-front that I'm not the best role model for focused efforts. I'm a bit different from Lisa, in that I can (and usually do) remain productive in a messy environment. All of my workspaces default to some level of disorder. Yet if that's a distraction for you, I agree 100% that it should be addressed before you try to get down and do some serious writing. As long as you don't lose most of your writing time to cleaning every day, you'll probably come out ahead.
Most of my distractions are internet-based. One of the reasons I like Scrivener is that it has a distraction-free, full screen writing mode where you can't see any windows except for the text editor. That helps a lot. Many writers (including at least a couple of pro authors I could name) turn off the internet while writing. I haven't been brave enough to try that yet, but I probably should.
Caitlin: I love the images Lisa! I also can't focus if I'm listening to something with lyrics. I have a "Film Scores" station on Pandora that's great for writing. Many of the songs have an "epic" feel, which just gets me more excited about what I'm writing. :) I would also definitely recommend using a timer. Set it for 10 or 20 or 30 minutes and work on only one project for that amount of time. Texts, emails, etc. can all be checked after the timer goes off and you are on a short break. Then set the timer again and get back to work. Repeat. :)