Do you remember those television ads that show a frying egg and announce “this is your brain on drugs?” If they ever made another ad for “this is your brain in perimenopause” I bet the egg would be scrambled.
Over the past year or so, I've found it increasingly hard to focus. I’ll sit down to write and within moments I’ll remember I need to switch the laundry over. I do that and then the dog wants out. Then the dishes need to be put away, the mail checked, the grocery list made. Before I know it, it’s time for lunch.
Often I’d write a sentence, get stuck, and decide to use the pause “wisely” to check e-mail. After that I’d move on to Facebook and Twitter so I wouldn't be tempted to do so later. Hours would slip by. Inspiration generally hit around 2:30 PM, shortly before I had to go pick up the kids.
It may be hormones gone haywire. It may be I've become too programmed to multitask. It may be that I've forgotten how to prioritize. No matter what, my writing process included little writing.
I got a new laptop right before leaving for this year’s What Women Write retreat and had no chance to load anything on it besides Microsoft Word and my work-in-progress. I chose a writing spot in a lounge chair. Once seated, it was a production to get the computer off of me. Getting up would be a conscious choice rather than an impulse. As a result, if words didn't flow, I stayed put and mulled it over until they did.
I accomplished more in three days than I had in the two months prior.
It was time to face facts. My office, long a source of discontent, is the worst place for me to work. From there I hear the TV, the other computers, the dishwasher, the dryer, the neighbors’ revving motorcycle engine, the doorbell, snoring dogs, and the mail truck. In our overcrowded house, I can’t claim an entire room to myself without causing major disruptions for my family. How about a corner, I thought?
|Photo by Deborah Downes|
I often read for hours in the antique Morris chair in my bedroom. Now that the room has been decorated in circa 1910 fashion, it’s a welcoming place for a historical fiction writer, especially with the addition of some bookshelves to hold my oldest volumes. I headed there with my laptop one day, just to see what would happen.
Words happened. Lots of words. Good words. The same has happened every day since.
As a test, I write this post at my desktop in my old office. I've checked my e-mail three times, Facebook once, answered the phone, and let the dogs out. It has taken me well over an hour to write 400 words, and that’s on a post where I know exactly what I want to say. It’s all I can do not to get up and get a snack right now before finishing the final few sentences.
If you are a writer who spends your day seemingly doing everything except writing, it could be your process is broken. Here are some hints that have helped some of us stay focused.
1) Don’t work at your desk. Susan heads to the library or Starbucks. Joan mixes it up between a desk, recliner and kitchen table. Pamela used to write from her office until her new puppy needed supervision; now she works from the kitchen table on her laptop. Julie works through the night on her sofa, surrounded by dogs and crumbs. Elizabeth, after years of convincing herself she can't compose on the computer, learned she is very productive there indeed. I have my Morris chair and also enjoy sitting under a special tree at a local cemetery.
2) Make coffee/snacks ahead of time and keep them within reach.
3) Set a word count goal you must reach before you can get up for any reason.
4) If you can swing it, have a special computer designated just for writing. Don’t set up e-mail or log into social media sites on that machine. Better yet, don’t connect to Wi-Fi. This has done wonders for me!
5) Keep your cell phone in a different room.
6) Pay attention to all your senses. If you’re sensitive to noise, wear noise cancelling headphones. Try aromatherapy candles. Avoid itchy fabrics or take off your bra, for heaven's sake!
7) Schedule a block of writing time, even if it is an hour, and say no to anything that might impede on that time.
Do you have more suggestions for our readers? We’d love to hear from you! Feel free to share your strategies below.