Posts Tagged ‘Focus’

Two crucial skills for the writing life.

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Each day, we are bombarded by the tasks we must do, by the things we want to accomplish, and by the demands of tasks and people upon our time. There is only so much time, and so often too many things to do. We necessarily must master the skill of multitasking, of doing more than one thing at a time: answering the phone and emails, scheduling meetings and signings, managing children and pets, managing a household, making time for love, tracking our books and our word count.

Writing & publishing have become a multi-skill career, especially for writers, where we must write, have a business plan, set goals, design covers, write a blog, maintain a website, and market our books. Some of us do all of these things, some of us out-source some of it. And most of us do have other demands placed on our time, like family, friends, favorite past-times, other jobs.

And all of this demands that we multitask, and that is necessary. It’s almost a survival skill.

Lost in all of this multitasking, all of this busyness, is the equally crucial skill of … focus. Being able to focus fully, for long periods, is very important. Lost too is perhaps our best work, our richest and most engaging writing, and our real potential as writers. Without focus, our work suffers, our creativity isn’t as great or as deep. The constant interruptions and distractions mean we not only do not get as much done of what is really important for our dreams (writing, for example), but what we do during those crucial hours isn’t of the quality that we could want.

What can we do to more fully apply that skill of mental focus to our work, our writing. On my blog post about writer’s block (filed under Writer’s Life), I recommend using a timer and freeing up the mind from other things that might intrude. It’s kind of like beginning to practice meditation, where other thoughts and distractions must be kept to a minimum, and where mental discipline must be continually exercised. Once you’ve decided that it is more important that you become more deeply focused when you write, then you will probably think of other ways to accomplish this.

Here are some tips on focusing from that previous blogpost:

1) Before ending the day’s writing time, write a few lines of the next scene or a few ideas for that scene, so that it’s easier to pick up at the next session.

2) As you sit there, take the first 10 to 15 minutes to read a section of a book on craft or articles on craft, to switch your mind from the daily grind to writing and craft.

3) Set up your writing time so that all you have to think about is writing. Since you have other pressing things to do in your day, perhaps schedule your day on the evening before, so that when you begin to write, all of those other things are settled, done, and you’re not thinking about all the other things you have to do that day. Instead you’re thinking about and focused on writing. (see No. 5 & 6)

4) Write in a Journal before you begin your writing time, to dump all the things that are bothering you or distracting you. Assign a maximum time for this (5 minutes), otherwise it could take over much of your writing time.

5) Set a timer for the length of time you want to write and then think of nothing else during that time–that is the time you have for writing–until the timer goes off. This allows you to fully focus on your writing, and to set everything else aside for that hour or for whatever time you’ve allocated.

6) When you sit down to write, if other things occur to you that must be done or that are competing with focusing on writing, then quickly create a list of those things you need to do or think about. And then put it aside, so that they’re all written down and will be less likely to distract you.

7) Plan–an outline or variation of one, but at least a general idea of where you’re going with the novel, whether it’s a general statement, a synopsis with the main plot points, or an outline.

And a quote on the subject:  “…when you are completely open, when on all levels you are in complete communication, completely integrated, then there is joy and you begin to create … creativeness is a sense of total self-forgetfulness, when there is no turmoil, when one is wholly unaware of the movement of thought.” — Krishnamurti.

How do you see yourself applying & balancing these skills in your life?



Focusing your story, your writing life

Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Something on focus–or “framing”–today…in fiction, in life.

When we’re talking about having a great opening, preventing a sagging middle, and jazzing the readers with a terrific ending, we talking about focusing that story, about keeping it moving, keeping it intriguing–and keeping the readers turning those pages. I wanted to touch on that today, and on ourselves as writers, focusing our writing lives–so that our writing careers have a great opening, middle and “ending.”  When we hold up a frame, like an artist might, to look at different aspects of our fiction and our lives, what do we want to include within that frame?

We want the story to be compelling from beginning to end.  When we hold up that frame, what is our focus? Here are a few questions to consider:  Is there too much backstory in the first few chapters? Are the first few chapters seamlessly leading readers through your opening–introducing your characters, your Central question, your plot, voice, genre–and then into Act Two? Where are the turning points? Does the conflict build, scene by scene,  to a satisfying climax? Are there too many subplots, which don’t support the main plot, so that the plot and conflict are diluted and fizzle? Or are there too many characters or too many scenes that don’t go anywhere, that don’t support the main story, that don’t add to characterization or conflict? 

In the same way, is your writing life focused? Are you building your brand? Are there too many distractions and your efforts are diluted–they’re not focused on your goals. Are you supporting your main goal, your greatest desire and dream, with how you spend your time, your energy?

For inspiration, here’s an excerpt from my Plein-Air writing, The Harvest from Earth’s Palette:

“…Art captures those moments, those stories. The Earth whispers into our bones the age-old ways of storytelling, of capturing life in art. But the Earth captures who we are. We are the art; our lives and selves are the medium. We paint the world with who we are. We are the figures in our own paintings, the heroes in our own stories, the decisions we make about life and others–decisions that may be truth, or what we need or want to believe.

The courtyard of the land awaits, with empty tables, to be filled with players. We carry around a frame, holding it up much like an artist, seeing sections of that courtyard, like a photo album, spread across the landscape, a scene here, a grouping there: visitors on covered porches; painters with canvases, on balconies, near orchards; writers sitting in gardens, gazing at mountains. Each group, each person creates their own story. While Life frames us into what or who we are, we frame ourselves by what we do, how we live our lives, by the choices we make. So we paint ourselves into the landscape, surrounding ourselves with our own frames. …”

Our fiction tells the stories of people,  but your own life is your own story, one you are telling right now, right here, with how you choose to spend your time, your energy. With how you express your passion…or don’t.

For the full text of The Harvest From Earth’s Palette, here’s the link: