Let’s face it, coming up with a stupendous, mind-blowing idea can be ridiculously difficult and at times, even exhausting. It takes a lot of thinking, brainstorming, and the ability to really hone in on everything around you before that triumphant “Ah ha!” moment happens. But when it does, your brain goes into overdrive. You’re more excited about starting this project then you have been about anything in a really, really long time. It’s all you can do not to jump up and down and start cha-chaing around the hall because you finally found it. The most brilliant, wonderful, awesome idea you can possibly imagine. It’s sure to be a massive hit.
So, you sit down, all jazzed up on creativity juice (and sometimes a full pot of coffee), open up your document, touch your fingers to the keys, just seconds away from typing (or writing, if you’re a notebook lover) what will be your greatest work ever aaaaannd….
Ding! An email from a friend you haven’t heard from in two months. You think: Okay, I’ll just answer this really quickly and then I’ll be right back to work.
Or, how about…
Buzz. A text. “Go check Facebook right now! Lucy’s engagement pictures are up!” What? You didn’t even know he proposed! A quick scroll becomes an hour long affair, but you promise yourself that you’ll get back to it… Right after you read this post.
“Honey, can you come here a minute, please?” That minute turns out to be a three hour project.
And of course, there’s the ever annoying writer’s block. You’re plugging along, doing just fine, when suddenly… Roadblock. You have no idea where to go next. Or worse yet, if you’re a planner, like me, you start staring at the giant mountain of, well, stuff you have to do before you can actually get to writing– worldbuilding, character sheets, outlining– it’s a ton of work. So much that you think it might be simpler to just back out and do something a little more feasible.
We’ve all been there for one reason or another. I like to call it Squirrel Syndrome. We get so distracted by all of the other things in life that need our attention that we often find ourselves not getting nearly as much accomplished as we’d hoped with our own creations. Well, dear readers, I have a few solutions for you.
Recently, I shared my Top 5 Ways To Get Inspired, so in honor of the start of a new month, and all of the beautiful, flowery distractions that come with it, today I thought I would share my Top 5 Tips for Staying Focused.
- Figure out your perfect environment: Everyone has their own conditions in which they work best. For me, this means I have to have some kind of background noise. Those of you who read my previous post already know how much I love music, so nine times out of ten, it’s Pandora blaring from my headphones. I absolutely detest working in silence, whether it be for fun or for school. It makes my skin crawl, and causes every teeny tiny little sound to become a distraction. Even if I don’t have the music on, I almost always have earbuds in. Sometimes it’s so the computer can read my work to me as I edit (A great cheat tool to catch things you may not have seen after staring at the screen for countless hours.) Sometimes I have the radio up online, and sometimes, I just have the earbuds in. I’ve discovered that for me, along with being a source of creating background noise, having earbuds in is a great tactile cue for my brain. It helps me tune out everything else, and focus on what needs to get done. Find out what works for you, and work in spaces like that as often as possible.
- Manage Your Social Media: Notice I said manage, not turn off. If you have to block certain sites for a time, or logout of your accounts to be productive, fantastic, do that. If, on the other hand, you’re like me, and you get encouraged by interactions with other writers and project-doers while working, use that skill. Or, if both of those are a bit extreme for you, perhaps make a compromise: for every hour you work on your project, spend fifteen minutes on social media. Determine the best way to make it work to your advantage, and stick to that plan.
- Set time limits: And speaking of plans… Through NanoWriMo, (click the link if you don’t know this site,) I recently discovered sprints. Ten to fifty minute long increments in which we type as much as we can, as fast as we can. That’s it. No editing, no reading, no stressing over sentence structure, just writing. By doing this, i’ve been able to type about 500 words every forty or so minutes. It’s amazing, and really helps me push past roadblocks. The first draft might be crappy, but at least a “rough sketch” is done. I can always go back and polish later. This can help in all kinds of situations. Art projects, papers, anything big that you’ve been putting off because it just seems too overwhelming, try this. I know first hand that the results are worth it.
- Split large projects into smaller chunks: I’ve always done this to some degree, but it was only after watching Jenna Moreci’s quarterly goal videos that this method was really cemented in my head. Any time you’re working on something that just seems like it’s going to be an absolute bear to tackle, break it up. For example, I aim for my chapters and short stories to be between 3k-4k long, which is about ten single spaced pages, give or take. That sounds like a lot, but instead of looking at it as one giant chapter, I break it down into scenes. So, for kicks, let’s say my short story is about a little girl who finds a stray cat curled up in a box on a snowy night on her way home from soccer practice. She takes it home and rescues it. Ok, great. But how do I get there?
- Scene one: We meet the little girl, and she finds the cat. Maybe this takes about 300-500 words.
- Scene two: The little girl tries to find the owners, but no one is around, she’s cold, and her parents are expecting her home for dinner. This is probably 500-700 words.
- Scene three: She can’t just leave the kitten to freeze, so she wraps it up in her coat and decides to take it home, only then discovering that, along with being abandoned, it has an injured paw. This is another 300 words.
And so on and so forth until we reach the story’s end. Don’t worry as much about word count as I did there, that, again, can be trimmed in editing. The point is, instead of trying to cut up the entire steak, which will get cold and ratty by the time you reach the last bite, cut off a few pieces, eat those, and then cut up more if you’re still hungry (i.e. in need of more story or have the energy to write another scene, or both.)
- Don’t push yourself: I stand by the idea that if you’re stuck on a certain story or scene, exercises like sprints can help you get over those rough spots without worrying about perfection, but if you’ve been working for hours and your brain feels absolutely fried, stop! Continuing to write at this stage is the fastest way to produce lackluster work in my experience, and nothing makes you want to shift focus more than feeling like you’re work is absolute garbage. Instead, step back, marvel at your what you’ve accomplished, binge on a favorite Netflix, and get ready to put your nose back to the grind in the morning. Good luck!