Monday, July 12, 2010

Focus!


Now that I’m off for the summer, I find that having too much time is a detriment to my writing.

I don’t have limits to sharpen my focus.

During the school year, teaching eats up my day. I can’t write, but I do find that chapters are taking shape in the back of my mind. People who catch me muttering to myself are probably getting a glimpse of some upcoming dialogue. When I get home from work, there are other obstacles: doctor’s appointments, chauffeuring the kids, cooking dinner. And all the while, scenes are knitting themselves together in my brain.

When I finally sit down with a limited time to write, it comes out in a torrent.

This summer, with oodles of time, there are lots of things that distract me from writing OR subconsciously planning what happens next – including stuff that I am blocked from doing when I’m at work: reading and responding to blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, etc. I’m like a kid in a candy shop!

Luckily, I’ve discovered resources for providing focus. One is #1k1hr on Twitter – and thank you to Tawna Fenske for introducing me to it. Simply put, you commit yourself to writing at least 1,000 words and writing continuously for at least 1 hour. If you reach the word goal before the hour is up, you keep writing. If the hour ends and you haven’t reached 1,000 words, you keep writing. The object is to meet both goals.

A similar, but more flexible resource is The Practice Room – and thank you to Heather Kelly for inviting me. In the Practice Room, you meet with other writers to set goals, unplug for an hour (unplug email, FB, Twitter) and write, then meet back in The Practice Room to discuss.

What #1k1hr and The Practice Room do is promote fluency. It’s kind of a slap-your-head thing for me, because as a teacher, I know the value of promoting fluency in reading and writing with my students. I just never tried it on myself.

Fluency = getting it down, even if you know it’s going to need smoothing over later. There’s no stopping to find that perfect word or phrase – write something down and fix it later. There’s no diverting into 45 minutes of research to find the correct name of a specific 19th Century railroad – make something up and do the research later.

It’s pretty strange that limiting my time has actually proved more useful than sitting for hours in front of a computer screen. Apparently, I need the distraction of other activities to complete my sub-conscious planning. And I need the pressure of having just a brief time to write in order to improve my fluency.

What works for you?

15 comments:

  1. I think a lot of people are probably like you, Dianne. The more they have to do, the more they accomplish. What's that saying? If you want something done ask a busy person? Working in a newsroom all of my life I'm used to daily deadlines (there's no holding up the press)so I like the pressure to get things done. When I'm busy and multitasking, there's more pressure but I love it. In my writing life, I have to establish goals (short- and long-term)but I still don't have the pressure of "the press has to run." At least not yet. Hopefully that's in my future as a writer when I have to meet deadlines for my agent and publisher. Here's hoping. But enjoy your summer, too. I wish sometimes I had more time to recharge. It's work, work, work. And when I'm not working I'm doing a boatload of other stuff. From church council to writing books to planning my high school reunion -- I never sit still. Have a super day and hope that you meet all of your goals.

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  2. I'm a panster by nature so writing when I feel the moments right and going back to make it more fluent when I go back. I'm actually revising Getting to Peloria and I can already tell the flow is so much better and though I'll have a lot of revisions but it's been working being set up.

    Oh and I love when you know something that works for your students but you never think to apply it to yourself, I know how that works all to well!

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  3. I love the practice room. So often I forget, though. I'll need to go and check out her schedule right now. Thanks for the reminder, D.

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  4. I'm bad for the distractions of research. I've never heard of the practice room. While I won't be using it, I will apply the approach of writing for an hour unplugged and working on fluency. Great ideas. :D

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  5. Nonono, I'm the same way. It's not strange at all. I need the boundaries of "crap, there's only two hours left-do it!" Or I will procrastinate.

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  6. I definitely set research aside for later, and will always opt to make things up. I don't turn the wireless card on in my compy when I'm writing so I'm never tempted. Although TV has become much more of a siren call for me than anything else. Sigh, I'm such a procrastinator.

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  7. I totally agree. I think that's why when I tried to write a novel in June last year, it didn't work, but when I tried again in November, I came out with a story I thought would never happen.

    And with the whole fluency thing, it's kind of like what NaNoWriMo taught me. It's important to get a story right, but it's more important to get it written first, because it can always be fixed later.

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  8. I totally get what you're saying! During the 7 or 8 years I was writing and subbing and struggling to get a book deal, I always worked full time. In the ultimate twist of irony, I was laid off from my day job just two months before my agent landed me a three-book deal. As a result, I haven't been working a regular day job for the last six months. Though it's been great to have time to devote to writing and building up a potential readership, I can definitely tell I've lost focus. I always fantasized about how fast I'd be at writing if I had full days to devote to it, but I'm honestly no faster now than I was when I worked full time!

    Great post!
    Tawna

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  9. It sounds like most of us have the same experience. Being busy keeps us focused! Lazy brains are ... well, lazy.

    And Tawna, I have also fantasized about being able to stay home and write full time. But it may be that -- no matter how much time is available -- there is only so much time the brain can devote to productive writing!

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  10. Focus? What's ... um...hold on. I have to go yell at my kids. Be back in a minute.

    OK, so, yeah. I hear ya on summer = productivity slow down., although obviously not because I have too much time but just the opposite. I'm back to doing my old schedule of writing in the early morning. Which I'm not crazy about but it's either that or get nothing whatever done.

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  11. Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. Now that I don't have a morning job I feel as if I can't settle down to write. I thought I was going nuts. This helps a lot! Thanks,

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  12. I too find an abundance of time to be a good way to get nothing done. Also, it's been great seeing you in The Practice Room this week.

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  13. I can do pretty well with an abundance of time about 70% of the time - just write for long hours and get much done. But the other 30%? I need a deadline to get anything done (and every school project I've ever had has been a 30% thing as well).

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  14. Welcome to new visitors and followers -- Tawna, E. Arroyo, Kate, and Guinevere!

    It seems that, for most of us, when inspiration strikes, nothing can stop us from writing it down. But when we are feeling our way or unsure of our path, it takes a certain amount of discipline to sit down and write.

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  15. Really good pointers, Dianne! (Now if I could just follow your advice.)

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