Just keep reading. The advice part comes at the middle of the article…
Struggling to Focus
I really struggle to focus when it comes to my writing. To focus – not to concentrate. I can sit and do the same thing for hours. Unless I’m on my phone. Then I have the intention span of a two year-old and I can forget what picture I want to open only half a second after I’ve made the decision. I don’t have a search for the reason for my problem, because I know what the cause is. Ideas. I have too many of them. While I am busy researching links for my Writing Club Facebook page, I think of a new short story that I want to write and then I think of a great idea for my next blog entry and while still busy with that I’m struggling with the plot problem of my decade-old novel.
Multitasking towards Scatter Brain Syndrome
Every weekend I think of what to do the next week and plan it in my head, but come Sunday (when the work week starts where we currently live) I sleep too late, spend too much time on my phone checking Facebook, play Words with Friends or find something interesting that I have to do Bible study on. So by 10:30 I realise that our bedroom needs tiding, the building cats want food, our son wants to sound his view points on his latest university essay with me and while I’m listening to him, my mind wanders to have yet another few writing ideas on another few projects.
Am I too scatter-brained or do I have too many ideas? I can’t always determine, but I know that whichever it is – or maybe it’s both – it makes me unproductive. Having ideas as a (would-be) writer can only be good, can it not? I rarely have had problems with writer’s block in my life. That must be a good thing, mustn’t it? Having lots of ideas is good. But it doesn’t help if any of those ideas ever get finished. Oh, I have finished manuscripts in my cyber Dropbox drawer. It’s not if I can’t finish anything. I can sit down and work on a long project to finish it. It’s just that I can’t finish everything that I want to, because I don’t know what to work on and what to leave.
I do something and then I leave it and then I do something else and then I leave it when a new idea pops into my head. I know I have this problem. And I have tried to overcome it many times. I am currently in one of those phases. I have decided to finish my Writing Club business idea. I have started well. Then I got sick. And now, a week later, I am writing a blog while still editing a short story whilst I should be busy with that instead.
The problem I find with my writing – as also in other areas of life – is that I try to multitask, in spite of being a hater of multitasking. Because I multitask in life too. I start tiding the bedroom, and when putting away some stuff in the bathroom, I see that the toilet need urgent cleaning and when I go to the kitchenette to fetch the cleaning products, I wash the morning coffee mugs and then remembered that my son didn’t have breakfast yet and when I take his breakfast to the TV room where we normally have it together, we watch the breaking news and I quickly do some research on some of the facts the reporter gave and then I see some interesting article that I have to share to my Writing Club Facebook page and while on the computer I see that there are some messages from my family group on WhatsApp Web and then I get involved in a who-looked-more-like-whom baby pictures debate and when it cools down I see more interesting articles on writing and read a few, and get new ideas for blogging and then my husband called to hear if I have started doing research for our trip and then I get into the mood to finish my short story and I write for an hour. And when I finally come to my senses again, the bedroom is still untidy, the toilet is still not cleaned, the coffee mugs are dirty again after having breakfast though, the breakfast plates had to be cleaned, there is new breaking news on TV, the family had decided that the baby looks like herself, my Facebook page have more notifications, my short story is still not finished, I haven’t done the research for our upcoming trip and I realise that I haven’t thought about what we’ll have for dinner. Then I leave everything I’ve been busy with and rush to the kitchen…
That’s my life. It’s not perfect. I frustrate myself. Days and weeks and months and even years fly by and I’m not getting done what I want to get done. In a few years’ time I will probably look back and ask my husband and son: “What have I done with my time?!” And they will probably remind me to read this blog entry to answer myself.
Having many ideas is a good thing. For creative people it is a wonderful thing. But if you can’t channel those ideas into some productiveness, they will always be just… ideas. Ideas means nothing if they sit in your head. They have to be acted upon – just like dreams. Ideas also have a tendency to get ‘stolen’. If you don’t do something with an idea, someone else, who is more focussed will and before you know it, another opportunity will be lost.
A Few Tips
Multitasking must be killed. We must live in the moment and concentrate on the task at hand – one at a time. Here are a few ways to try to do it. Let’s try it!
With the Olympics on, I couldn’t help to recognise again the athletes’ commitment to their respective codes. The archer’s focus on the target is a good example of how we as writers or other artists or people of any other career should learn to focus on one thing at a time. The archer can only hit one target with one shot. If his focus is on anything other than only his target, he surely will miss. Focussing on one writing piece at a time will eventually means that one project will be finished. And if that one is finished a next one will get finished and a next and a next.
Do Something Productive with those too Many Ideas – Make a List
Write down all the writing projects ideas you have in your head. By getting them out of your head and onto paper, you can start focussing on getting them done. Keep this list close and update it as you get new ideas.
Then Make a ‘To Do’ list
Now make a ‘To Do’ list. Decide what it is you want to achieve with your writing. Be very, very honest with yourself and focus on your strong points. Identify the projects that will be the most probably to get published and/or bring in some money. Prioritise you list. Then start and finish the first priority project on your list.
Don’t Move on Before a Task isn’t Finished
Don’t move to number two on your list unless number one is finished. In the case of number one being writing your novel, you can do blogging or other smaller projects in between, but always finish the allotted daily writing time for your priority project first, before going on to doing the smaller ones.
Plan your day – Have a Routine
You know the saying, ‘Fail to plan, plan to fail.’
If that archer didn’t practice for hours every day, he wouldn’t have made his country’s Olympic team and he wouldn’t have been able to win the gold medal. If he failed to aim at his target, he would have failed to hit it. If you want to go on holiday in Greece, you need to plan to take leave, buy plane tickets and book accommodation. Otherwise you will remain where you are. If you don’t plan anything, you won’t get anything done. It is as simple as that.
‘Go to work’
My husband gets up at the same time every morning, showers, clothes himself, takes his bag and goes to work. And he remains there for eight hours of every five week days – working. For that he is rewarded with a salary at the end of every month. Input equals output.
Some writers have a day job and write for an hour or so every evening and some more over weekends. Well-known writers had got published for the first time this way – by writing only for a short time every day. Every day.
Some writers have the privilege of staying home and have more time than others to write. If you are one of those and still struggle to fill at least a few hours every day writing, you have to become more creative with managing your time and the way you work.
- Identify your favourite writing place in your house/garden.
- Decide on what part of the day your writing hours will be.
- When the time arrives, literally pack your writing tools (laptop, notebooks etc.) in a bag and walk out of the house, through the garden (if you have one), back into the house and to your working place.
- If possible, leave your phone ‘at home’ or switch to silent.
- Stay at your working space for the time you have allocated.
- If you have a whole study or office as working space, close the door after you have finished and open it again at the beginning of your writing period. This way you know that you can shut down and have time to do things with your family without feeling guilty, because you have already done your writing for the day.
- Be jealous about your writing hours. Allow no disturbances, other than real Don’t make unnecessary appointments for those hours and say no to appointments that can be made for another time.
These tips may seem like common sense and they actually are, but we certainly tend to lose our common sense when we get distracted. Keeping to a regular routine and staying disciplined helps to divide between your living and working spaces and may help you to get into the right mind for doing more productive work.
Keep a writing log
I’ve started doing this years ago, stopped and started again. I make a simple monthly spreadsheet and write down what writing related work I do every day, including reading. (I also keep a separate yearly reading list.) My columns include, Writing, Editing, Reading, Blogs and Other (like time spent updating my Facebook Writing Club page or journal writing). I blot out days that we travel and on which it isn’t possible to write, although some travels can offer wonderful writing time.
Keeping a writing log shows you how many hours per day you effectively spend on your writing projects and it serves as a motivational tool to better your productivity from month to month. It also helps with planning your writing schedule, because you can see how much time you need to spend on certain projects.
Take Stock Every Week, Month and Year
At the end of every week, month and year, evaluate your writing effort. Check your ‘To Do’ list and see what you have achieved. Go through your monthly writing logs and see where you can improve your productivity. Make changes and stay focussed – one task at a time.
Keep a Personal Journal
If you don’t keep a journal I have a question for you: Why on earth not?! Apart from being a therapeutic tool to write down your emotions, problems goals, dreams and feelings, your journal can be a treasure chest of ideas. Many of my journal entries have become blog entries. It also serves as a reminder of the dreams and goals you have and is a place to blow off some steam – as you are the only one who reads it.
You don’t have to write in your journal every day or even every week. Write when you want to, but keep writing, even if there are two-month gaps.
On days that you really can’t get other writing done (for whatever reason) – just journal. At least it will help you to stay in routine and not get rusty. I write in both languages I speak, depending on the reason, subject or mood I am in.
Learn more about journal writing at https://fieliesdekock.com/2014/03/17/article-on-writing-journal-writing/
Go forward one letter, word, sentence, paragraph, chapter, book at a time!
(OK, the bedroom is not going to tidy itself. Off I go…)
© 2016 – I, Fielies (Riëtte) De Kock tries hard to be a Proverbs 31-woman – excellentest wife, finest mom, greatest lover and successful ‘wordpreneur’ all at the same time. I share my current living space in Cairo, Egypt, with my husband, young-adult son, the building’s ginger cat, her friend and two kittens (so far) – and the space in my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters to function as a normal human being.