Posts tagged with: focus

Five Playlists to Keep You Focused and Productive

The world is a distracting place right now, isn’t it? What with all the jumping and running and biting and scampering across keyboards, I can hardly focus!!

I’m speaking, of course, of Captain Salty.

Captain Salty!

We have long fostered animals for our local pet shelters. Bunnies, chinchillas, turtles, guinea pigs, and dogs, we’ve done it all, but we mostly focus on kittens. Tough job, right?

Well, let me tell you: they make terrible co-workers. But I’m a glutton for punishment, and thus I have to find ways to focus even when there’s a wild-eyed monster climbing up my leg.

My favorite focusing tool is music, and I’ve developed several playlists to get me in the right writing mood.

POWER UP: “Who Run the World? Girls!” is a Spotify-compiled list that contains a surprisingly wide and ever-changing mix of music from women who are definitely writing their own stories, and will inspire you to write yours! My favorite playlist when I’m tired but I need to put on my big girl panties and get it done.

SENSUAL: “Get it On” is my master list of songs that say “sex” to me. Some of them whisper it–the first one, “Breathe,” is family-friendly. But I wouldn’t go playing “Falsetto” by The Dream around my mom. Put this on when its 9 AM and you’re halfway into your first coffee but you gotta crank out that big sex scene.

EMOTIONAL: “Country with Character” includes the songs I collected while writing a book about a small town with big personalities. With vivid characters like Reba MacEntire’s “Fancy” and tear-jerking stories like the Dixie Chicks’ “Travelin’ Soldier,” this list inspires me to dig deeper for the pull-no-punches emotional impact that romance readers crave.

FOCUS: “chill.out.brain” is a soothing playlist made by Spotify that allows me to forget that I’m listening to music and just focus on whatever it is I need to do. Great for when you don’t know what to play, or haven’t really found your groove with a book yet. 

HAPPINESS: Finally, “Get Happy” is just the ticket for those days when the world really is getting you down. Filled with oldies and stuff I’ve never heard, there’s not a one that won’t make you smile. Get up and dance to release your stress, and then get your BICHOK!

Do you write to music? Share with us your favorite playlists and albums!

Taming the Mental Chatter

Hello! So…what’s on your mind? Considering that the brain generates 50,000 – 70,000 thoughts per day (or 35-48 thoughts per minute), I’m betting there’s quite a bit crossing through your mind right now. Whew, that’s a lot of mental traffic!

And yet, we are constantly trying to focus. Whether it is creating a strategy to manage evening kid activities, the presentation for the company VP, or the witty dialogue in our book’s pinnacle scene, we need to wade through the chatter clogging our brains to get things done.master-your-mind

As an author, part of my writing process includes daily walks where I think through character motivations and dialogue, but sometimes it is nearly impossible to stay focused. Even small things interrupt my train of thought. Like this morning, I had a pebble in my shoe. I spent half of my walk trying to ignore the pebble and thinking that I need to buy shoes without holes in them until I finally stopped and shook it out. Other days, my monkey brain (what Buddhists call this deluge of thoughts) monkeys swingingswings from to-do lists to what-ifs to vacation plans. If I can’t rope it in and focus my mind on my work, my mental chatter hampers my productivity.


So…what are some ways to tame the monkey brain?

1. Morning Papers. Many authors start the day off by journaling or writing in a notebook. Rather like a mind purge, they throw down thoughts and worries, ideas and tangents. Sometimes this works to get rid of extraneous thoughts before diving into work. I’ve just started doing this, and it helps, but I still think about things. I try to remind myself that I don’t have to since I’ve already written those things down (yes, my psyche and I have arguments about this continually).journal

2. To-Do List. I can’t live without my to-do list. Sometimes it is in my morning papers, but I like to carry it around with me, so it’s usually on another paper. I like to make the to-dos small, steps in a project. This way I can mark off the steps and see that I’m moving forward. Then I actually take time to do some of the to-dos. I know! Crazy!

Even if they are not writing related, I take the time to do them, especially those tasks that don’t take up much time. Because if I don’t do these little things, they take up mental space that I can’t afford. I end up thinking about them much longer than the time it would take to just do them.

For example, I volunteer to keep up my neighborhood bulletin board. I change it out and decorate it about once a month (No, I’m not completely community altruistic. I can put up my book release info easily since I have the key : ). I walk by that board with my dog every day, and if I haven’t kept it updated, it snags my brain for the second half of my walk. Ugh! Too much mental space wasted.

If you have a few things on your list that hijack your mind, just do them so you can move on to more important thoughts.

3. Be aware. If you know you want to focus on something, like a scene or character, then specifically try to put it in your mind at the beginning of the session (session could be walking, doing dishes, driving, showering, etc.). Adding other sensory cues can help. I listen to a specific soundtrack when I’m determined to think about my book. I might light a candle and hold my felt writing gnome. I drink a cinnamon, hot chai latte. All of these things signal to my brain that I should be thinking about 16th century Scotland and not the laundry that needs folding. I also have a few locations that help me think about writing, like on my back porch or at my writing desk (her name is Eleri).

Writing Gnome

Writing Gnome

Chai Latte

Chai Latte

Eleri organized









4. Be Nice to Your Muse. Why didn’t I use a stronger verb than move? That bad review was spot on. I suck. Why do I think I’ll ever get published? My editor hates me.

My muse looks like Xena

My muse looks like Xena

Psychology Today reports that up to 70% of mental chatter is negative, and a lot of that negativity is about ourselves. Often times we are meaner to ourselves than to our worst enemy. And nothing scares away your muse faster than slamming her with insults (You must always respect the muse!). If you find yourself continuously berating yourself, there are techniques to rev up your internal positivity (which I’ve written about in another blog post).

5. Set a Timer. If you must think about something, whether it’s planning a vacation or strategizing about how to talk to your hubby about the ballroom dancing lessons you just signed the two of you up for, set a specific time and duration to plan. Take notes so you know you’ve captured all your thoughts on the subject. When the time is up, put it aside and refocus on your book.

6. Take a Season. If your world has just shattered, your mind will be consumed with shock and picking up the pieces. When I was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo 15-months of chemo, no amount of lists and daily pages could get me to stop thinking about not dying and my kids and my poor hubby who’d lost his own mom when he was 9 to cancer, etc. The mental chatter filled my head to overflowing. Like plopping bricks in a glass of water. There was no room left for creative thought. So I had to take a step back from my fiction writing. Instead I wrote about my journey and how I was going to survive. A wonderful writer friend told me that I just needed to “take a season” where I cared for myself and didn’t worry about my fictional worlds. For some authors, they prefer to lose themselves in their fictional worlds when theirs has broken down, but not me. I just couldn’t and “taking a season” gave me permission not to stress about it.

Do you have any techniques for taming the mental chatter and focusing on your writing?



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  • Lydia Stevens: Hi Autumn! Thanks for the post. I love my editor. She is amazing. I would also like to point out, it...
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