Focus — there be different kinds. There’s the type where you’re talking on the phone while dicing vegetables for dinner and also painting your toenails while watching your favourite television show, and then there’s the sort of focus you need for eight-hour brain surgery (as the surgeon, not the recipient).
My theory is that there’s two kinds of brain activity associated with each type of focus, and I’m not talking that left and right hemisphere guff but two different ‘zones’ of concentration. Speaking for myself, I have one mode — the ‘multi-tasking ninja mode’ — where I’m capable of juggling chainsaws while telling jokes in German and drinking a martini. The other mode — ‘deep ninja mode’ — is the space I enter when focusing on just one thing: the words I’m drafting or editing, and their rhythm, patterns, impact and mechanical accuracy, clarity and conciseness.
Both modes are useful as a writer. When I’m doing marketing and networking and zipping all over the inter-webs like a hummingbird on crack, I need to be in multitasking ninja mode because, let’s face it, when I’m in ‘deep ninja mode’ my social skills go into hibernation and I’m about as chatty as a bear with a sore head.
Anyway, I need both modes but the results are disastrous when my brain refuses to flip the switch at the appointed time I’ve scheduled for either hummingbird work or bear work.
I sit down to write and hummingbird brain says ‘lets surf the internet for crazy ideas which I’m sure will generate a whole book!’ Experience has taught me that no, it won’t generate a book, instead it’ll guarantee a fun hour spent internet surfing and one or two sentences added to the manuscript. Not to mention that while ‘researching’ on the internet hummingbird will notice several posts in Twitter and Facebook that she must immediately respond to, in addition to several emails that she must immediately reply to.
Or bear-with-sore-head opens Twitter and frowns. Someone has misspelled consummation. Grrr. Open Facebook and the bear mutters “what’s so funny about kittens in g-strings? Shouldn’t these people be writing?” Bear-with-sore-head believes anything but writing the next hundred words in the manuscript is a waste of time and that it’s best not to talk to anyone, either face to face or online, until she finishes another ten thousand words. She’s quite happy to skip on exercise, personal hygiene, eating, toilet breaks and house cleaning because those too are unnecessary distractions. “Writing is art and one must suffer for one’s art. Alone. Grrr.”
So bear-with-sore-head (BWSH) is a curmudgeon, while hummingbird is a twit. Luckily, my brain seems to occupy a space somewhere in between those two extremes most of the time. But what do you do when you need BWSH but hummingbird is in the house, or vice versa? Are there ways to tempt one to come out when you need them? I'd argue there are.
If I want BWSH to come out I turn off email and the internet, even switch off the computer and write on paper if I have to, and sometimes I’ll stick in ear plugs as well. Hummingbird loves lots of stimuli and will ping off to noisier more diverting environs if I deprive her of stimuli. Sometimes she resists departing, and I’ll have to edit yesterday's writing for several minutes before she flies away (after taking a big sulky dump on my manuscript from up high), but fly away she will. And I find truffling through draft pages an excellent way to drop-kick myself back into the head space I was in when I wrote those pages. If that doesn't work, I hang a carcass from the ceiling and wait for BWSH to catch its delicious scent.
On the topic of editing while drafting, I know I shouldn’t (what if I later delete the scene I edited the ass out of?) but I do. It’s compulsive. You. Just. Can’t. Stop. But on the plus side, editing is the equivalent of hanging up a big smelly carcass and BWSH, unable to resist, will come shambling out for a taste and then hang around to write new words.
But what about hummingbird? How do I lure her back? I make things uncomfortable for bear by turning my email back on, playing some music, watching some YouTube videos and trip-trapping around all the various social media sites. Bear can’t abide all that silliness and will go find a quite cave to hide in where she can think deeply and undisturbed about entropy or global warming.
I’m not saying my methods are fool-proof, and, yes, there was that incident when I was in BWSH mode and the grocery delivery boy showed up and I greeted him with unbrushed hair and growled “gimme the groceries, grrr” but overall my methods work for me and maybe they’ll work for you too.
And if your problem is procrastination, Romance University has an excellent post on tackling that too.
Rhyll Biest writes romance hot enough to melt your e-reader and can be found swanning around at biestbooks.com