The ability to pay attention to our writing for sustained periods of time is key to making steady progress on projects, improving our craft, and gaining access to “the zone” where time is suspended and our words seems to be writing us instead of our writing them. So any focusing aids we can take advantage of are extremely valuable. Just recently, I came across a list of seven helpful techniques in a story by freelance writer Alie Luke at thewritelife.com*– a site I’ve just discovered with lots of helpful advice and resources. Here are a few simple but powerful approaches Ali uses in her own work to stay on track:
Sit quietly for three minutes before you begin: So often when we launch into a writing session, we’re still feeling the fallout and pressure from other activities — whether it’s something we’ve just done or something we have to do later in the day. Instead of letting this get in the way, why not let it go? As Ali suggests, “Sit quietly for just three minutes at the start of your writing session, breathing slowly in and out. Don’t try to think about your writing or to-do list. Just give yourself a chance to be quiet and still. Three minutes might sound like it wouldn’t make a difference, but it does. Give it a try!” When meditating, people are often given the instruction to just sit for a few minutes and let themselves “arrive” on the cushion and settle in — this is the same idea.
Write down your intention when you begin: Before you actually dig in to the writing task you plan to tackle, take a little time to write down on a piece of paper or card what you plan to accomplish during your writing session. It might be to “Work on chapter 6 of my novel for 40 minutes” or “Come up with five ideas to handle the plot problem in chapter 3.” Whatever your specific task is going to be, write it down because as Ali notes, “it forces you to be clear about what you actually want to get done.” If you are working with a to-do list, then she suggests circling or starring the task you’re going to work on first;
then do the same for any other to-dos you have time for. Again, setting an intention is a very helpful technique that’s used in meditation. It gives your mind a touchstone to return to when it wanders — as it always does.
Listen to sound tracks or classical music: Some people like to work in silence, but others find that having music playing in the background helps them screen out distracting noises if they’re working in a café or even a library. If you want to try this, Ali wisely suggests using film soundtracks or classical music, because any music with lyrics will just be another distraction. Here again, Ali has some useful advice: “You might want to consider finding a few favorite instrumental albums to play only when you’re writing. It can be a reliable way to get into a writing mood.” Using certain pieces of music as “triggers” to help you slip into your writing mode is a great idea — it’s a technique that elite athletes use to get themselves psyched for competition.
“Your focus is your future” says Oprah Winfrey — so let’s stay on track and write on!
*For the full article on Ali Luke’s 7 suggestions, visit thewritelife.com