Go ahead and post an update to Facebook with a photo of yourself reading this post. Get that out of the way. Then update Twitter, “Awesome post on #focus @Casey_McCormick”. Scan the CNN headlines, see if you have any new emails, check out my website to learn more about me, and make your next moves on any open games of Words with Friends.
What I’ve highlighted is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what can kill even the best intentions to focus. Add children, spouses, pets, worry over some impending deadline, television, radio, laundry, and no wonder we all have trouble finding a few minutes to simply concentrate!
For writers, the ability to focus is critical to getting words on a page. Defining a character requires thought. Shaping a plot isn’t something you do while watching the latest reality show.
If you ever struggle with finding your own focus, keep reading.
1. Give yourself a gift. We all love gifts and that’s exactly what time to think is. Treat it that way. Think of time as a vacation, make the most of every minute.
2. Ditch the devices. Turn off everything. Then put devices away, or move yourself. Physically removing distractions is one of the easiest ways to get them off your mind.
3. Time box. I write for 2 hours every morning before heading off to my “real job”. I often time box, simply setting guidelines (in my head) for what I’m going to do when. Think of it as a personal writing agenda.
• Work on Chapter 4 until 5:30
• Research question on Wikipedia (until 5:45 at the latest!)
• 5:45 back on Chapter 4 Then hold yourself accountable.
4. Toss the to-do’s. Forget about the laundry, the kids, the dog, the dishes in the kitchen, and the car that needs an oil change. This is your time.
5. Relish the routine. If you’ve ever put kids to bed, you know the power of routine. Bath, pajamas, read a book, play soft music, lights off, and voila, they’re sleeping. Create a routine for your writing time. Burn a scented candle, wear a special sweater, use a specific journal or font. It could be anything!
6. Establish a spot. As part of your routine, find a writing spot. Over time, the link between writing and that place will grow stronger. I’ve used my guest bedroom as a writing zone for about six years. As soon as I shut the door, my brain focuses on fiction.
7. Visualize. Olympic athletes visualize a competition before it starts because it can lead to greater success. Imagine holding your finished book, reading it aloud to a class of kids, or clipping a great review. Whatever your goal, picture it clearly in your mind. It can help both motivation and focus.
8. Be Realistic. No one can focus for an entire day. I spoke with an award-winning writer I admire and was so pleased to hear her say that. Target an hour or two at a time, and then give yourself a mental and physical break.
9. Reward your rigor. Rewards can be highly motivating. Force yourself to earn them. “I’ll work on Chapter 4 until 6:30 and then check facebook for five minutes.” The reward can give you the mental energy needed to focus again.
10. Break a goal into bits. Think about turning your big goal into smaller parts. Then focus on just one of them at a time. You’ll get the satisfaction of making progress more quickly and maintain a clear direction on how to proceed.
Some of these suggestions may work better for you than others. We’re all wired in different ways. So give several a try and good luck!
Additional articles and resources:
• Breaking big goals down
Shannon Wiersbitzky is a middle-grade author. Her first novel, The Summer of Hammers and Angels, was published in June 2011 by namelos. In addition to writing, she manages a full-time job, a husband, two young boys, and four fish. She is currently working on two new novels with her editor, and is completely focused on getting them finished so she can start a fourth.
And now, some info on The Summer of Hammers and Angels!
Most folks have never seen an angel.I know, because I’ve asked them.I asked Miss Martha at the post office.“Maybe someday, Delia, God willing.”God does a lot of willing in Tucker’s Ferry, West Virginia.Delia's summer is getting off to a terrible start. First, an inspector shows up at the house and threatens to condemn it. Then lightning strikes, literally, and Mama ends up in the hospital. To make matters even worse, with no other family to speak of, Delia is forced to move in with her nemesis, Tommy "as-dense-as-a-stump" Parker.Not one to sit around doing nothing, Delia huddles with her best friend, Mae, and reluctantly recruits Tommy, to help. The three of them resolve to tackle the long list of repairs, one by one. But Delia quickly discovers that it takes more than energy and willingness to handle some problems. When things go from bad to worse, Delia has to take another tack, one that starts with admitting she just can't do what needs to be done without a lot more help.The Summer of Hammers and Angels is the story of an amazing summer in a girl's life, a summer of surprises and challenges, of shocks and recovery, of discoveries and friendship, and of loneliness and community.
*Note: A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book are donated to Habitat for Humanity.
What kind of person will enjoy this book?
If you believe the world could be a better place if we all helped one another a little more, then you’ll enjoy The Summer of Hammers and Angels.
Book Review excerpts:
2012 Recommended title, Kansas NEA Reading Circle
“This debut novel of self discovery and the power of prayer coupled with hard work is a must for everyone who loves story. It excites, stimulates, and, yes, it is also a tearjerker. A young adult book that would be a good read for adults, as well.”
—Catholic Library World
“….down-to-earth life struggles combine with inspiring generosity of spirit in this uplifting debut.”
“...will leave readers hungry for fried chicken and Coke from glass bottles.”