I’m still having a little break from the novel – but busy working on other projects. Or at least I was – until my concentration (always a bit flighty at the best of times) plunged off the bottom of the scale.
I’ll be honest – I know exactly what’s causing it. He’s tall, muscular, bloody gorgeous and a VERY bad idea. (It’s great!)
But, I don’t want it to take over my life (especially as it will most likely end in tears), so I need to get my mind back in check and under control. I worked out that if I spent as much time and energy on writing, or even on working, as I do on day-dreaming then I’d be unstoppable. The trouble is, I’ve honed my powers of day-dreaming to almost super-human levels over my life so suddenly taking control and turning it round is proving to be a challenge.
I’ve tried the ‘STOP’ technique. That’s where you tell yourself to ‘STOP’ whenever you notice your mind wandering – but then I’m left with a void. What do I think about, then? It’s a bit like trying to not think about elephants – the more you try, the more they’re marching around in your head.
I’ve got two techniques that sometimes seem to work. One is a form of meditation – focusing on sensations, breathing – then trying to slowly turn the attention back to the task in hand. Works sometimes. The other is to drown out mental chatter – for example with the radio, which works better with talking than music. For some reason, music seems to enhance my day-dreams. If the radio isn’t an option, then I try to jam it with meaningless mental chatter of my choosing. Random song lyrics, lines of poetry or even a running commentary on what I’m doing. It stops day-dreaming but also effectively stops me from getting on with anything else useful at all.
What I really want to be able to do is to control the imaginative, day-dreaming part of my mind. It can be very creative and I know I do have incredible powers of concentration – but I can’t focus it on anything remotely useful.
I’ve noticed that I start to day dream when faced with something boring or that doesn’t really interest me – which is not much of a surprise. But the real key is to be more aware of how I start to day-dream – what are the mental cues that throw me into the state where I can fully visualise and focus so well? If I can master those, or so my theory goes, I can train myself to use similar cues to work out plots or dialogue (in boring meetings, for example) or to focus my attention on a dull task (and so become more productive at work).
Nice theory, isn’t it?!
I decided to give myself a break from writing the novel simply to give myself some space, and explore other projects. But I’ve done nothing very constructive for all that time – I seem to have collapsed in on myself like a burst balloon.
Maybe I should just enjoy this down time rather than waste energy feeling guilty about it?
Since working on The Artists’ Way I’ve slowly got out of the habit of doing my morning pages regularly (my excuse is Josh – he wakes up too early and complains) and I’ve stopped doing artist dates. Maybe that is the key and I need to go back and bring those things back into my life?
I’ve decided to stop pushing myself so hard to get the first draft finished. Although I’m worried that this could be a bit of a creative u-turn.
On one hand, I’ve got a lot going on in my life. I’m a single mother (to an incredibly engergetic and sparky six-year-old boy) and I work full time. I have a house that needs cleaning and decorating along the lines of the Forth Bridge. And then on top of that, I’m writing a novel, trying to keep posting in a blog – not to mention attempting to keep up with my professional development and fit in a little social life.
I’m beginning to think that somewhere along the line, I need to fit in a little bit of relaxing!
So I’ve decided to ease up with the novel and let my batteries re-charge. I’m not going to be giving it up, though – just not punishing myself to get it finished. I don’t think that forcing myself to try to meet deadlines is helping me in my writing. I’m getting bits done, but I’m not enjoying it as much as I should be.
Having said all that, there’s a little voice in the back of my head that’s telling me that I should keep going and not stop. That I’m giving up and I will regret it later.
Lots of times I sit down to write, but just can’t get into it. I don’t have the right frame of mind – and given that I get very little time to write I want to be able to make the most of the time I have. I’m surprised at how hard I find it sometimes: after all I want to write. If I wanted to eat ice-cream, I’m sure that I wouldn’t have the same difficulty!
Of course, writing is mostly a mental process, and the mind has lots of ways to stop us from doing what we want. (Or maybe that’s just me!) My problems with getting on with writing seem to have two sources:
The anxiety is all internal. Although I know that what I’m writing is just a first draft, and that no one is going to be seeing it, I have what I can only describe as performance anxiety, and I’ll do anything to avoid writing when I get into that state – which is where the distractions come in.
Distractions come in two sorts: internal or self-created ones (who’s emailed me today? Better just check my bank balance – etc.) and the real ones (Josh not wanting to go to sleep, the cat wanting attention, someone telephoning just as I’ve sat down).
Of course identifying the problems is only part of the battle. How do I overcome anxiety and the distractions that I create for myself? Obviously, will-power and self-discipline (as much as I hate to admit it) are the key things – but that’s not something that you can just ‘get’, it takes practice. I mean, I can’t go from having will-power with the consistency of jelly to tough and sinewy determination overnight. I need to build up to it.
My strategy is:
- Fool myself into not being anxious. I’ll have warm-up session where I just ‘mess around’ with ideas to get me in the mood – the idea is that once I’ve started writing I’m usually ok.
- Start small. If I really don’t feel like writing, I’ll just do it for 15 minutes to see how I get on (and set a timer so that I don’t clock-watch) and then carry on longer if I want to, or take a break.
- Avoid opportunities for distractions. So, no internet connection when I’m writing and a note pad to write down all the ‘urgent’ ideas that occur to me while I’m getting started so that I don’t feel obliged to follow them up immediately!
Will it work? I have no idea.
My internal editor (you know, that annoying little voice that criticises everything you write, as you write it) has been getting too bolshy recently.
Instead of getting on with my draft, I’ve been getting myself bogged down with style. I don’t like the way I’m writing. The draft doesn’t have the right ‘voice’ – not even a tiny hint of it. Of course it doesn’t help that I’m not really sure what the right ‘voice’ will sound like; it’s a case of ‘I’ll know it when I see it’.
I can tell my self over and over that it’s more important at first to get the words written than it is to get them right, but my little internal editor is sitting on my shoulder tutting into my ear all the same.
So tonight I turned the tables and put him in the spot. ‘Think you know about good writing, do you? Well, go on and tell me what it’s like, then.’ I pulled a load of books into a pile on the floor of the living room and began to go through them – what’s good in this? I like that bit – why? What makes me cringe at that bit?
(NB. This is one of the things that I like about being single. I can do mad(dening) things like that without getting into an argument or needing to explain myself. Of course, if I wasn’t single then I might have something better to do on a Friday night…)
Looking through the books I discovered one great and obvious truth: it’s far easier to pick holes in something than it is to pinpoint what it is that makes something work. There was always that ‘je ne sais quois’ to all the really good passages – the rightness just dissolved as I tried to get to grips with it.
But then looking for passages I didn’t like was fun – my little editor was in its element. So although I didn’t manage to find the holy grail of ‘how to write good’ I picked up a few tips about what I should try to avoid, and I feel more confident about being able to go back to my first draft at the editing stage and make it better (or more to my liking at least). By looking at someone else’s writing I could be more objective about what it was I didn’t like – and so (my theory is) I’ll be able to see these traits in my own writing and sort them out, rather than just get upset that my first draft is rubbish.
Now I’d better go and get those books packed away!
Tried to write tonight, but just couldn’t. My mind felt fuzzy and unfocused – probably something to do with spending a day at work then coming home to an overtired and grouchy Josh. Not really conducive to getting into the right frame of mind for writing.
I don’t suppose the glass of wine in the evening that’s become a habit since my holiday has really helped either…
But I got some more words down, and better luck next time!
Talking about fuzzy brain – I just noticed that I saved my last post as a draft instead of publishing it. Doh!
I really wanted to get a good start back to writing after my break, but it was hard to get into writing again. Some of the distractions were external – Josh couldn’t sleep (I think he was thinking about going back to school) and the cat was still annoyed with me for putting her into kennels for a week.
But to be honest most of the distractions were created by me: I’d be sitting down to write quite happily, and then get this amazing urge to check on something completely random, like how much milk have I got left? Are there any more potatoes? Has anyone emailed me? Hey, I could grow runner beans in the garden next year. I wonder when I need to plant them? You get the idea…
I’m a great procrastinator, so I just jump at the chance to follow that internal voice that takes me away from what I’m supposed to be doing. A certain amount of procrastination is normal, but I do worry sometimes that I take it to extremes – especially when it comes to the Internet. (I mean, I’m at work at the moment, but there’s the Internet just a mouse-click away. Hey, why not write a blog post? Ahem.)
So I’ve decided to do my writing on my old laptop. This is because it won’t connect to the Internet, it’s too slow to run any interesting programs and the CD drive is broken so I can’t install anything else. It does recognise my memory stick, so I can just save my work onto that as I go (I don’t trust it enough to rely on having anything stored on its hard drive!)
Now all I need is an isolation tank and/or a will of iron to ignore all the other forms of displacement activity at my disposal.