Thursday, August 5, 2010

Achieving Clarity of Mind

Some writers get much writing done in the interstices of their lives, in the five minutes here and the ten minutes there between appointments and chores and while waiting in lines.

I'm not one of those writers. I need my mind free of other distractions to create. One of the many reasons I became a full-time fiction writer was to achieve that clarity of mind, because my clients' work occupied too much of my mental landscape.

Now that I have only one small copyediting client left, though, I still have too much mental junk. Here is some of what clutters my brain and destroys my focus:
  • My continuing small job for my single client; I receive each newsletter to edit in several pieces over a week or two, so I am often anticipating the next batch of articles.
  • Volunteering. I want to give back to organizations I belong to, so I try not to say "no" to every request for help. The result: more things to plan, organize, schedule, do, and think about.
  • All the lab tests and doctor and pharmacy visits my health problems require. More scheduling, organizing, and planning.
  • Critiquing. I enjoy critiquing my friends' stories, and doing so certainly improves my writing. But it also keeps stories that aren't mine floating about in my head, collecting ideas for improvements.
  • Household time sinks, such as the four-hour window that most service people schedule. I find it hard to write when part of my attention must focus on the doorbell.

What are the answers to better clarity of mind? I don't know. Here are some things I've tried, with some success:
  • Wearing a special bracelet when I'm writing to remind myself not to sabotage my concentration by wandering the Web and checking Facebook.
  • Being mindful of my choices of music or silence, depending on my writing project.
  • Getting the mail, eating meals, and taking other breaks at natural stopping points in my writing instead of in the middle of a thought.
  • Practicing yoga to develop more control of wandering thoughts.
  • "Clear desk, clear mind." The problem is, I hate taking time away from writing to straighten up, so I don't often get the chance to benefit from this technique.

Is your busy life causing problems in focusing on your writing? If so, what solutions have you found?

Thank you for stopping by today. I'll be blogging again at Novel Spaces on August 21. Hope you are having a great summer!

—Shauna Roberts


Terence Taylor said...

So true...I live by my computer calendar, and post notes to remind myself of when things need to be done and set e-mail alerts to remind myself! My ADD is finally manageable... ;)

Charles Gramlich said...

I think trying to find that natural flow is very important, choosing natural stopping places to eat and to take the needed breaks. I find myself wasting far too much time myself, even though I think I'm pretty good at disciplining myself.

Shauna Roberts said...

TERENCE, I have an elaborate system of reminders, but I haven't tried emailing alerts to myself. Thanks for the good idea.

CHARLES, when I was younger, I had lots of discipline. In recent years, I've lost a lot. Perhaps I drove myself too hard and my mind and body finally rebelled. Like you, I find myself wasting far too much time. I wish it were on fun things, but most of the time it's on stupid things such as looking through piles for a particular piece of paper, watching birds out the window, or checking my friends' FB statuses.

Jewel Amethyst said...

What takes my attention? My job, screaming kids, and that horrible chore called cleaning.

I do use my blackberry to organize my days and remind me of any appointments or things I need to do half an hour before the time. That helps a lot.

And yes, I do write in my mind. No wonder I'm always so distracted.

Stefanie Worth said...

Jewel and I have kindred lives with the job and kids -- though I'm all too happy to skip the cleaning. The way I've gotten around the clamor for years was to claim the hours after the kids' bedtime as all mine and write, write, write. It worked until this year when personal issues forced me to re-prioritize my life. In this instance, the writing had to give. But the first thing I'll do when my distractions are finalized is to pick up my writing journal and WRITE DOWN a new set of goals and step-by-step action plans to get myself back on course. I tend to be very productivity oriented and that method has served me well.

Liane Spicer said...

I'm not one of those who can squeeze it in snatches of time either. Writing down a schedule does help, and those Google calendar reminders are wonderful. I've been meaning to get something symbolic like Shauna's bracelet and KeVin's ring (I think it was).

Shauna Roberts said...

JEWEL, I too like to have story questions simmering in my mind while I do other things. Sometimes I work out a lot of a story before even sitting down at the computer.

STEFANIE, good luck getting your life settled and getting yourself back on course. When you say you're productivity oriented, does that mean you like to set word counts for each day or week?

LIANE, I've found it useful to have the bracelet to remind me it's time to work because thoughts constantly pop up to say I should do this or that.

Sphinx Ink said...

Shauna, you've hit on my biggest problem: the "divided mind." I've always admired people who can successfully write in bits and pieces, but I need big blocks of uninterrupted time to compose my writing. Alas, I seldom find such time blocks. Even when I do, worries about impending events interfere with my concentration. There's always so much going on--I have (and must keep) a full-time day job; my family issues interfere with concentration; other worries abound. Last but not least, menopause has devastated my ability to focus.

Your reminder bracelet is a good idea. Does it have a saying on it, or is it just a design that reminds you of your writing goals?

Shauna Roberts said...

SPHINX, it sounds as if we have the same problems. Luckily, menopause didn't do anything to my concentration (although maybe I just didn't notice because my lupus has such a devastating effect).

One tip I've seen is to make a list of worries. Once they're down on paper, your mind doesn't need to work to keep them in consciousness, and the brain space previously used for worrying is available for writing. I've found that helpful. I also use that technique with things that need to be done, even tiny things, so that I don't have to keep a mental to-do list.

One book I've found useful is Eric Maisel's A Writer's Space, which has a section on "Mind Space" and another on "Reflective Space." (Hmmm....I think i should read this again myself.)

I got my bracelet at a department store on sale. I've seen such bracelets at Kohl's and Penney's, often on sale, in the costume jewelry department. It's a stretchy bracelet with one silver charm that says "STRENGTH." These bracelets come with a variety of words, such as"COURAGE" or "PEACE."

Stefanie Worth said...

My journal is set up so that the first page or two outlines my annual goals. Those are divided between writing, professional development and marketing/promotion.

Then I start a new page with the beginning of each month that outlines what steps I can take that month to reach those yearly goals. That's usually a page or two of task-specific items. I follow that with day-to-day notes of words written, chapters completed, etc. I also track what promotion I've done.

I like the system because it allows me to not panic over my to-do list or wrenches that come life's way. For example, if I get an email about an upcoming pacing class, I'll make note of it in the journal instead of darting over to the web site to check it out right away. Same thing with promotion. It really helps me stay on task because then I may take one day to do all promotion instead of distracting myself with unfocused tidbits every day.

I used to be able to churn out 1,000 words a night that way -- which after work and kids was quite an accomplishment for me. I am almost back to being organized.