It’s that thing you think you’re doing, until you somehow realize you’ve been scrolling through your Facebook feed for 10 minutes without remembering how you got there in the first place.
Focus. It’s either addicting or repulsive. Possible or impossible. Easy … or not.
It’s unpredictable, which is why it’s so hard to manage. Some days you can sit down at your computer and write for hours without getting distracted (or it feels like hours, at least). And then some days you end up giggling on BuzzFeed for six hours before you even jot down a sentence.
How do we focus? Why are we sometimes able to focus, and sometimes we aren’t? Why are some days easier than others? Why is it okay to give up some days … and some days it isn’t?
You will hear experienced writers tell you never to write when you are not ‘in it.’ You will also hear writers talk about ‘finding your muse,’ which we don’t talk about here, because of reasons. You will hear advice that tells you to push through it, to write even if you have to kick and scream your way through the entire ordeal until it’s over.
Is it your inability to focus that’s causing you problems? Or something else?
The truth is, even distractions aren’t always the underlying problem. You could shut off your wifi and go sit in a tree with your laptop balanced on your knees and still find something much more interesting than moving your plot forward.
So what do we do, when we cannot focus on the one thing we are trying to accomplish?
My advice: write about it.
Write about how you cannot focus. Write about all the things on your mind. Write about your anxieties, your worries, your fears. List out all the things you would much rather be doing than sitting in front of a computer writing. Make yourself aware of everything that is keeping your mind from focusing on the task at hand. You will realize at least one important thing.
You will either realize you need to put off writing until you have finished a few tasks higher up on your priority list, or you will realize maybe you just don’t want to be working on that particular project right now. From there, you can either move on to another project for an hour and come back to this one later, push through the “I don’t want to do this” feelings and do the best you can, or walk away and take care of some of the things taking up space in your brain.
Sometimes the best thing to do is spend 15 minutes away from your screen. Then you can come back, start writing and get to that magic 500 word mark, which I along with several other people to my knowledge have noted is usually the amount of words it takes to drive yourself into the flow state you need to be in, in order to focus the way you’ve been trying to.
What you need to write today will not be as painful as you think it will be. But if you really cannot get started, be honest with yourself. Are you just procrastinating? It happens to the best of us. You have to do what you have to do. Hopefully one or a few of these suggestions will help you get to a point where you can focus, at least on something, even if it is not the thing you intentionally meant to focus on.
I just wrote a blog post about focus. Now I’m ready to focus on all the things ahead of me today that I am dreading. See how that works? :)
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.
Image courtesy of tekrevue.