There are moments in life when focus seems impossible. Life seems filled with fog and murkiness. During January we’ve experienced a lot of foggy mornings due to the sling-shot up and down temps the country’s been experiencing. It’s been a stunning metaphor for my mental state.
Finally, as the month comes to a close, I feel I’m emerging from the fog—personally and as far as my writing goes. When your writing (or life) gets hazed and dazed, there are some steps you can take to improve visibility. These helped me lift the mental fog:
- Limit multi-tasking. It’s easier to focus when you’re not splitting your attention between 2 or more things at once.
- Take frequent breaks. This helps limits distractions and the feeling you must multi-task. Write for 20 minutes then set a timer and answer email or browse social media for 10 minutes.
- Use a To-Do list. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment as you mark things off completed items. When I feel foggy, I don’t prioritize. I just want to feel I accomplishing something.
- Break bigger tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces. This helps you see progress before the task is completed. It helps to list each step on the To-Do list. Though it makes the list longer, you’ll also complete chunks on your To-Do list as you complete the “steps.”
- Get moving. Take a walk or simply spend 5-10 minutes doing stretches or simple calisthenics. Even dusting and vacuuming will help shift from a sedentary mind-set to a balance between work and movement. And movement changes body/brain chemicals.
- Refill the creative well. Reading has always been my escape and a trigger for new ideas. It energizes me. When I can’t settle enough to read, I listen to a book on tape or a story on podcast. (When I’m not feeling foggy, I’ll listen while I dust or do other chores.)
- Read for business. My writing magazines had piled up and I hadn’t visited my list of association websites or favorite blogs in ages. But, when I took 10-20 minutes to read an article or two a day, I felt I was doing something writing related, which helped me feel more focused.
- Journal. Whenever I record thoughts, events, and reflections on a regular basis, I feel more in control of my life. Not to mention the benefit of clearing the jumble in my head to make room for concentration!
- Change perspective. Since this is a trick for breaking writer’s block, I used it to clear the fogginess, too. I sat at a different table when I journaled, which provided a different view of the yard. I sat on the lanai to read instead of at my desk or in the living room. I took a pad of paper to the coffee shop and wrote. It can be energizing to do a regular task while looking at four new walls, so to speak.
Now that I’m out of the fog, I’m looking forward to a more productive month. Considering it’s a short month, this is perfect timing to emerge from the fog.
Children’s writers learn to look back on their childhoods to develop stories young people can relate to. It’s not looking back just for the memories but for the emotion too. For example, do you recall being in elementary school and looking forward to a new day because something good was about to happen? Maybe it was the first day of summer break. Maybe it was the start to a family vacation. Maybe it was your birthday. Or, maybe it was a simple as going to a movie, getting a book you’d been looking forward to, or the new Saturday cartoon line up every autumn.
When was the last time you, as an adult, looked forward to a weekend day with that same sense of anticipation as a long-planned for vacation? When was the last time you, as a writer, looked forward to crafting the next scene in your story or starting a new novel? I’ve thought about this sense of anticipation a lot during the past three months. It reminded me that when I still worked full time, I wrote in every spare minute I could find. To add to my writing time, I used to plan a long weekend with the intent of writing for 3 days straight.
The joy of making serious progress as I focused on a specific writing project provided the same break as a weekend getaway. At some jobs I had to use vacation days but at others they allowed personal days scheduled a week or so ahead. Whatever those circumstances at my job, I planned for my long writing weekend with the same attention I spent planning a vacation. I made decisions about which project I’d focus on and whether I’d stay home or turn it into a “private retreat” by reserving a motel room. I planned nutritious snacks to keep the creative juices flowing, and I scheduled my time–complete with exercise breaks and time for reading writing books or magazines and to connect with other writers (or get some feedback on my writing). The progress I made on my project buoyed me through my day job.
Now that I write full time, I juggle a lot of projects and balance teaching writing workshops with client work and contracted writing (mostly nonfiction). During scheduling turmoil in the past year, I realized I was missing that sense of anticipation in my writing. So, I designated Fridays as my “writing” days, meaning I work on only my projects. Client deadlines infringed and again I realized I was lacking that sense of anticipation. During this year I’ve designated Wednesdays and Fridays as “my projects” days. It doesn’t always work out the way I planned (and “my projects” has broadened in scope) but I’m happy with the sense of accomplishment at the end of those days. I haven’t felt that since my weekend “writing vacations” of the past.
So, are you feeling that sense of anticipation in your writing life? Do you awake happy that at some point that day you’ll get to focus on your story, book, or article? If not, consider proclaiming one day (or even a half day) as your “my writing project” day. Mark your calendar. Plan what you’ll do. Let your family know and ask for their support. Then, wake up with anticipation . . . to write!