Focus. Focus. Focus.

Have you ever sat down to write only to discover your spirit is willing, but your mind refuses to cooperJill and Bate? Sometimes, it’s because we’ve had to put down our writing for awhile due to a new job, an illness, or perhaps motherhood. Whatever the reason, it’s often difficult to get back into the swing of things. So, how do we get our writing momentum back?

I recently went through a severe anti-focus bout. After seeking advice from different friends and through a process of trial and error, I finally found my way back. However, I know me and know that I can be easily distracted. To help me for the next time my  mind wants to wander, I compiled the tips into an easy-to-remember  format. Should you ever sit down to write and realize all you’re doing is staring into space, then I hope at least one of these tips will help you.

Fill your free time with your story. FREE TIME?!? Normally, I’d be the first one to fall on the floor laughing at this, but by becoming more aware of how I spend my time, I learned I have a lot more free time than I thought. By free time, I mean the times when you’re doing mindless tasks, such as taking a shower, drying your hair, exercising, cooking, or driving to the store (okay, to be fair, I don’t necessarily consider driving mindless, but I think you know what I  mean). If you’re in the middle of the story, then think about what you’d like to happen next. If you’re plotter and have all the stars aligned, then think about your dialogue. It doesn’t really matter what you’re thinking about, as long as your story is occupying your mind.

Overlook your inner editor. At my last chapter meeting, a chapter mate said she’d learned over the years some writers were in a perpetual state of editing. She looked at me and said, “You’re very close to becoming one, so start writing and stop sweating the small stuff.”  Because my writing time had become so erratic, I would find myself constantly re-reading my story to familiarize myself with my plot and characters. Then, of course, I’d start editing what I was reading. Before I knew it, my writing time was over and I had no new words on the page. I finally decided if I was going to move my story forward, I had to learn not to go back and clean up my writing. For someone who is an organized control freak with OCD tendencies, I can tell you this wasn’t easy. Right now, my inner editor is on vacation. She’ll be back by the time I finish my book. If you’ve been away from your story, I’m not saying you can’t go back and catch up with where you are, just be careful of falling into the trap of re-hashing the same scene time after time.

Clear your mind. Did you know that this is one of the hardest things for people to do? We are always thinking about something–even if we’re just thinking about clearing our minds. Yes, I’ve done this. Our minds are constantly racing with daily tasks that need accomplishing. When it comes to writing, we need to clear our minds of those thousands of other things we think we should be doing and let our creativity flow. Again, I’ll refer to that side of me that used to believe everything in my little universe had to be perfect before I could sit down, without guilt, to write. Laundry done, house cleaned, groceries bought, etc.  A rough wake-up call is all it took for me to realize that life will never be perfect and neither will the world stop if I sit down to write with dust bunnies under my bed.  If you’re having trouble focusing, then try to clear the clutter out of your mind and see if that helps you.

Understand what writing routine works best for you. We can’t measure ourselves by what “Super Writer” does. Each individual must figure out what works best for them and then move at their own pace. Some writers prefer early morning, while others do their best work burning the midnight oil. I have a friend who writes during her fifteen- minute breaks at work. Maybe it’s not an ideal situation, but it’s what works for her in her particular situation. I admire her for her determination to write regardless the obstacles. Finding our peak time is only half the battle, the other half is making it routine. That doesn’t mean life won’t throw you curve balls, but it’s up to us to maintain our momentum by adapting. I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t done this lately, but I’m learning.

Sit down and write. Sometimes things can happen that will alter our perspective on life. It can be something minor, or it can be a major. Regardless, the occurrence will shape our thoughts, our emotions, and our beliefs from that point forward. Because of the change in my life, I suddenly had both the time and freedom to write. Instead of taking advantage of it, I’d make excuses not to write. This inability to sit down and write had nothing to do with a clean house or clean laundry and everything to do with fear. You see, for a while there, I didn’t have that gnawing need to write and it scared the hell out of me. Had I lost my passion? My creativity? Each morning, I’d boot up my laptop, open my WIP, and then decide I needed another cup of coffee. Or, I needed to let the dog out. Or, I needed to organize the apps on my phone. This went on for days. Then, one morning I decided I had to know. Either I was a writer or I wasn’t. If I wasn’t, I didn’t need to waste any more time pretending. The time had come to either stay in the chair and write, or let fear find other things for me to do. I wrote 509 words that day. Not Super Writer by any means, but at least I was writing. The best part was I couldn’t wait until the next day to write some more. The worries I’d had flew out the window as soon my fingers began flying over the keyboard. All it took was just sitting down and writing.  Jill Daydreaming

How do you stay focused? If you’ve been distracted, what do you do to get back on track?

49 Responses to “Focus. Focus. Focus.”

  1. “Have you ever sat down to write only to discover your spirit is willing, but your mind refuses to cooperate?” Yes, yes, yes! And sometimes I have both an unwilling spirit and mind. It’s tough. There are times when you have to give in to that until you feel stronger. I’m so glad to hear that you have regained your focus, June. Happy writing!

    • June Love says:

      Vanessa, there are times when life puts us in such a hold that makes it practically impossible to concentrate on anything, much less trying to be creative. It is during these times that I believe we must give ourselves permission to step away. When we’re ready to come back, then we are stronger for it.

  2. Great post, June. And one I needed desperately. I’ve been editing so much for the last year, I’ve forgotten how to just sit down and write. Your first suggestion to fill my free time by thinking about my book is a great one. I know it works. I just have to remind myself to do it.

    • June Love says:

      Laurie, I hear you. Knowing what to do is a whole different animal from doing it. Yesterday I was sitting in an after hours clinic waiting with an office full of coughing, sneezing, sniffling germ-infested people. A perfect opportunity to be thinking about my book. Instead, all I could think about was catching something before leaving on vacation next week. Wasted time.

      BTW, if you text with your thumbs. There is such a thing as “texting” thumb. Of course, that’s not the medical term, but it is possible to damage some ligament/tendon or something. It’s painful and requires a hand splint. You’d be surprised how much you use your thumbs.

  3. Elizabeth Langston says:

    I have a “writing only” space in my house. It’s in the living room, which I’ve decorated in “pleasantly boring”. It has good light. A comfortable chair and shelves with my reference books. Few distractions.

    I only go there to write. So it has a “Pavlov’s vibe” to it. Walk in=Write. And that gets me focused.

    • June Love says:

      LOL on the pleasantly boring. Elizabeth, that’s a great idea. I used to write in our home office upstairs, but when the company I worked for relocated, my “work” office took over some of our home office. After working the day job there, it became the last place I wanted to write. We turned a corner of a guest room into my writing office, but it doesn’t have that Pavlovian affect. Now, that I no longer have that job, I’m hoping one day I’ll feel like writing upstairs again.

  4. Tamara Hogan says:

    June, your last paragraph reminds me a lot of the moment I decided to stop talking about writing a book someday, and actually sat down to DO IT. I call it my “Sh*t or get off the pot” moment. ;-) It was time for me to put up or shut up. I’m glad I put up; it’s how I met all of you! I’m so glad you found your passion again.

    I’m very schedule-oriented, quite rigid about time, so all the writerly exhortations about making writing a daily habit are right in my wheelhouse. I wake up in the morning, pick up my already-packed writing bag, drive to the coffeeshop, unpack, get coffee, slap on my headset, and…write until it’s time to go to work. I joke with the owner of the coffeeshop that her shop is “my other office.” I am there to write. There is nothing to distract me from writing. I tore the wireless card out of my netbook to make sure of it.

    • June Love says:

      I love that you removed the wireless card. That’s taking temptation by the tail and slinging it. I confess that I wrote more when I was working full-time then I have in the last two years I’ve either been part-time or jobless. I wrote my last book when I was working 40 hours a week. Since then, I’ve been working on the same book.

      I like your idea of the coffee shop writing. I’ve thought about doing that a few times a week. I’m trying to discipline myself more at home, but maybe until I reach that point I should leave the house to write.

  5. Elisa Beatty says:

    Great post, June!!

    All the other parts of my life are VERY, VERY loud and demanding these days, and focus is hard.

    I’m going to take your advice to THINK about my story as much as I can through the day. That does often make me itch to get my hand on a pen to write down what’s in my head, no matter what else is pulling on me at the moment.

    • June Love says:

      Elisa, that one is the one that probably did me the most good. Thinking about my story made me want to begin work on it again. I know you’ve had a lot to deal with recently, so being able to just think about your book when you have so much other on your mind is awesome.

  6. Liz talley says:

    The best way for me to be focused is to have a deadline. Even if you aren’t under contract, you need deadlines and accountability. Sometimes I announce things on FB or in my chapter about my future plans because if I say it, I am apt to do it. I’m stubborn that way and unless there is a really good reason, I will do it.

    Another way I keep focused is to make writing a habit. I meet at Starbucks with a writing friend every Thursday. I keep that appointment. I also try to schedule as much as possible. Thanks for this post and reminding me that while its tough tomkeep focus, it’s doable when you are intentional.

    • June Love says:

      Liz, announcing your goals/plans is a great way to be accountable. I think I’ll try that. Like you, if I put it out there, then I’m much more likely to achieve it. I have tried to set deadlines. That didn’t work so well for me. I think because they were self-impose my brain convinced by will that nothing bad would happen if deadline wasn’t met.

  7. Diana Layne says:

    this is great, June. I’m like Laurie in that I’ve been editing so much this last year I, too, worry whether I can write a story again. And I’m like Elisa in that other parts of my life are extremely demanding and will not be put off. I’m beginning to feel like the Gemini I am-totally split in half and going off in different directions. This is a great reminder, thanks! And good luck with keeping your focus!

    • June Love says:

      Di, I’m a Gemini right there with you. You’d think it would make it easier for me to multi-task, but no such luck. I believe my Gemini tendencies play havoc sometimes with my heroines. At least, that’s the story I tell myself when they appear to have split personalities. :-) I know you’ve been busy lately, more than usual, so that you’re even able to edit is admirable.

  8. Great post, June. And very timely for me! I’ve been guilty of letting my internal editor take over lately, as well as letting all the external life “junk” crowd my mind. It’s amazing how difficult it is to focus when you let all the little bumps in the road zap your energy and your creativity.

    • June Love says:

      Cynthia, my internal editor had really taken over my writing time, which is why I sent her packing. I still have a hard time letting X mark the spot when I can’t think of that perfect word or description, but I’m learning. And, those little bumps? Well, I think it’s the little ones that really grab us because those are the ones that often come around daily. At least, it’s that way for me.

  9. Addison Fox says:

    Wonderful post, June!

    You hit on so many important points here – including sometimes giving ourselves the time we need to do something other than writing. There’s a strange dichotomy in the writer’s brain – that if we’re not working we’re not writers and I think that’s often an unfair pressure we put on ourselves.

    Yes, if we never sit down we won’t get new work done, but there is value in the quiet times when we need to mentally recharge. Sounds like you’ve got some awesome strategies for getting right back into the work!


    • June Love says:

      “…that if we’re not working we’re not writers and I think that’s often an unfair pressure we put on ourselves.”

      Addison, you just hit the nail on the head. We place so much emphasis on how many words we’ve written to justify we are writers. I think it’s even more of an issue for non-published writers.

  10. Fantastic post, June. :)

    I’ve read some fabulous books lately, so I’m trying to lock my inner critic back in his/her box as I remind myself that I’m just as capable of churning out beautiful stories.

    I also am working on taking bite-size chunks each day. Too often, I’m pressuring myself to produce massive word counts, and sometimes I can, but not for days and days in a row. I’ve learned that if I can do 1k a day, I should be happy – that’s a rough draft in 3 months, which sounds pretty good to me.

    • June Love says:

      Anne Marie, learning to recognize our own pace is key, don’t you think? I used to measure my word count against other writers and always fell short. I write slow. It’s just how I write, so I’ve learned what to expect from myself.

  11. Amanda Brice says:

    Great post, June! I’m so glad you’re getting back on the right track!

    “Have you ever sat down to write only to discover your spirit is willing, but your mind refuses to cooperate?” ALL THE TIME.

    • June Love says:

      Amanda, considering your handful of joys toddling around your house, it’s easy to see how you could be distracted. The pictures I used are of my niece and my sweet, precious great-nephew. I don’t see how mothers who write ever get a word on the page. Whenever I keep him, I am worn out afterwards. Babies are very time-consuming. So my hat’s off to you and all other mother’s who have to balance children and writing.

  12. I agree with all of these, June! Fantastic tips and I’m so glad you are finding your way back. Writing missed you. It told me so. It wanted to send you flowers but didn’t have an account, so it sat waiting for you to find it again.

    Love you, sis!

    • June Love says:

      Well, writing is sweet to have said that to you, and I appreciate you giving me the message. Now that writing and I are back on speaking terms, I told writing I’m glad no flowers were sent ’cause I probably would’ve just killed them. I have a thumb and it is so not green. :-)

  13. Kim Law says:

    Terrific post! I love all of your suggestions, but the first is so important to me. Just keeping the story in my head gets me back to the computer the next day. And keeps me excited about getting back there!

    Thanks for this list. I’ll be sharing it with others!

    And yay for you getting back on the right track! :)

    • June Love says:

      I love when I’m in my story so much that I sleep, eat, and breathe it. It’s one of those writer feelings you really miss if you’ve lost it. If you’ve got that, then staying in focus is much easier.

  14. Jean Willett says:

    Oh,wonderful words of wisdom! On one side it’s so nice to know I’m not alone and that others suffer the lack of focus at times.
    I’ve found kicking myself doesn’t help a lot. But consistency works well. Even if I have only an hour, I’ve found that keeping the same hour each day trains my mind to produce….then the interruptions start, but at least I have a few words on the page.

    Thanks for all the great tips!

    • June Love says:

      Yeah, Jean, I’ve learned that kicking only results in bruises. I like your suggestion of consistency. That’s something I haven’t gotten a grip on yet, but I hope to soon do that.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  15. You, we, are not alone. Everyone has commentments that they have to handle. It’s life and it’s great to remind everyone of this fact now and then. As writers we’re in our soluitary world so much that we don’t realize that the universe hasn’t chosen us to dump on.

    Just a few suggestions to go with your comments.

    1) Realize how much free time you really have by keeping track for three days. Write down all the time you spend on FB, Tweeter, watching TV, waiting somewhere, etc., etc. You’ll be amazed and once you know where you’re wasting time, you’ll use it wisely.

    2) Keep a note pad with you at all times. I can’t tell you how many times a day, I make notes while waiting, watching TV or in the minutes before I fall asleep. Notes jump start the writing when I do sit down.

    3)Don’t feel guilty about not writing a book in a day. Any words on the page is forward motion and food for the muse.

    Kudos to you for finding your way back, lady. So happy. Thanks for the great post.

    • I should’ve also said in #3 that you never know what tomorrow brings. You might have a lot of free time and having that muse fed really helps to be very productive.

    • June Love says:

      When I was working full-time, I complained so much to my husband about not having time to write that he created me a time-budget spreadsheet. Can you say “ouch”? He was very thorough and even built in some ME time. After that, I stopped complaining. At least, to him. :-) My point is his chart made me realize just how much time I wasted. Time tracking your day is a wonderful motivational tool.

  16. Wonderful post, June! I too couldn’t write for a long while as I fought cancer. It was a “season” as my writer friends told me, one that would end and I’d be able to write again. They were right!
    I tend to edit a lot too as I write. To help me turn that off I got a Neo little electronic notebook. It only gives me about 5 lines that I can see and it is for straight writing, not editing. Once I write on that I can plug it into my computer where it’s formatted into something I can edit. But while I’m typing away on my Neo, I have to just write. Internal editor can’t get in there to trip me up :) It’s certainly helped me get my word count in.
    Thanks again June! Hugs, Heather

    • June Love says:

      Heather, you certainly had a life-changing experience that put your perspectives on a different track. I’m happy you were able to find your back to writing. The Neo notebook sounds like an excellent device to keep your inner editor at bay.

  17. Vivi Andrews says:

    Excellent post, June. I’m a planning-out-my-next-scene-while-driving girl from way back. :) I’d also recommend reading a good book to refill the well (for me, books in a different genre than the one I’m writing work best, don’t ask me why).

    And like Liz said, deadlines are excellent. If you don’t have an editor or agent imposing them, tell someone whose opinion matters to you that you’re going to finish your book by Tax Day (or some other immovable date – just make sure it’s achievable). It’s amazing how much being accountable to someone can drive me.

    • June Love says:

      Vivi, until your comment, I hadn’t realized how little reading I’ve done since the first of the year. Reading usually makes me want to write, so wow. Maybe if I’d been reading more I would’ve started writing sooner. I’m so glad you posted that a good book is a perfect way to jump start the creative juices.

  18. Rita Henuber says:

    Fantastic tips!
    My main problem is clearing my mind of all the other things going on around me. I do have occasional bouts with my inner critic. But I think the IC is now afraid of the 2 x 4 I carry around with me. I love writing. And I’ll keep doing it no matter what.

    • June Love says:

      LOL, Rita. Maybe I need to start carrying around a 2×4. Clearing the mind is one of the hardest things to do because there’s always something going on. You know it’s like our TBR stack–always a book to read. I don’t think I’ll ever NOT have a TBR stack.

  19. This was so timely for me, June! Really appreciate your tips and going to work harder to keep my butt in the chair.

    • June Love says:

      Bev, I had to finally realize in order to write, I had to sit in that chair. Of course, I also had to learn not to open email or go online at all. Good luck!

  20. Kate Parker says:

    Tomorrow I’ll have to do my writing in the OR waiting room. Emptying my mind to write will be a great release. I’ll take your tips with me to stay focused on the keyboard and not everything else going on in the room and how hard the chair is.

    • June Love says:

      Kate, I hope everything goes well tomorrow. I will say I’ve never been very successful writing in a hospital. Aside from any apprehension, there tends to be too much hustle and bustle. I wish you luck on both fronts.

  21. June,

    Thank you! Navigating through a treacherous new home purchase is sapping my writing time and energy at exactly the wrong time. I feel like I’m living my own version of The Amityville Horror – hopefully, I won’t be hearing any voices say, “get the hell out” anytime soon!

    I’ll try to clear my mind in the morning. If that doesn’t work, I may have to start carrying a 2 X 4 of my mine! Thx, Rita! Thx, June!

    • June Love says:

      As writers we do like to hear voices, but not those kind. Spooky, spooky. Buying a house takes a lot of mental energy. Then, there’s the long To Do List that just keeps getting longer. Good luck trying to get all that out of your head. And, especially good luck with the house!

  22. What a great post, June! And very timely for me. I am coming off a long bout of doubt and being stuck in the editing whirlpool!

    I carry index cards with me everywhere I go. When something comes to me – a snatch of dialogue, a scene, what happens next I scribble it down on my index cards. That allows me to shuffle them around and pull them out when I find where they go in the story.

    • June Love says:

      Louisa, carrying index cards is a great idea. I’m glad this came at a good time for you. That black hole of doubt sucks us all in at one time or other and can be extremely difficult to climb out of.

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