Dreams, Goals, and Focus

Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all!

I am back to the land of the living and no doubt about to dive in to playing catching up at the EDJ.  But I thought I’d make a quick post before I headed off to the mines.

I spent some of my time off catching up on “You should read this” blog posts, something that often slides when I get busy.  Yesterday, Konrath did a post on his numbers at Amazon using the KDP Select program.   He’s got over 50 titles to play with, so YMMV from his by, like, a light year, but he makes a lot of good statements about the issue of self publishing being a business of which YOU ARE CEO.  You have to make the calls, the marketing plans, etc.  He says:

As always, when you run your business, you need to set your own attainable goals. “Attainable” means they are within your power. Anything that requires the “yes” or “no” from someone else isn’t a goal, it’s a dream.

Finishing my next book by the end of March and getting it live is a goal.

Selling my series to Hollywood is a dream.

I have no dreams. (Emphasis mine).

Some people don’t get that difference between goals and dreams.  I feel like I’m not one of them.  I’ve always had a very clear grasp of what is and is not in my control.  I haven’t set goals for myself of “I’m going to hit the New York Times Best Seller List!” because I have no influence over that.  Where tend to get into trouble is that I haven’t given up the dreams, and I often spend a lot of time focusing on what I want to be to the exclusion of buckling down and getting my stuff done (usually in a [insert swears here], if I could just make enough money to quit my blankety blank day job, I could get this finished in some reasonable amount of time! kind of way).

My day jobs take up a lot of brain cells.  It’s unfortunate, but there you have it.  And what needs to be happening is that I conserve whatever is left to focus on the WIP (truly, the only thing really under my control) and GIT ER DONE, as Larry the Cable Guy would say. And instead I’ll waste time fantasizing about imagined levels of productivity without a day job being in the way, and putz around not getting enough words on the page.

Bad writer.

I’ve spent an enormous amount of effort over the last four years really pushing myself to up my daily word count.  And that’s good.  It’s one way to produce more.  Write more words.  But for now, I’ve kind of topped out on what I can realistically produce under my current life circumstances.  I can’t change those life circumstances, and God knows those life circumstances are a lot better than so many people’s, so really I have no right to bitch about them.

But what I really need to work on is an ability to compartmentalize and focus better.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve said in the last six weeks, “I’m having a hard time getting back into the story,” where I’m having to reread the previous scene or act or whatever the heck, because my brain is full of so many things that aren’t the story.  And then I end up spending 2/3rds or more of my limited writing block on THAT instead of producing new words.

I used to be able to focus through ANYTHING.  I could write through the noise of the TV, through someone talking to me (sorry Hubs), through class (What? I still got A’s), through all kinds of things.  And these days, my attention is more like that of a crack-addled squirrel.  OH! SHINY!

I’m really not sure exactly HOW to go about improving my focus, keeping my head in the game, so to speak, but you gotta start somewhere.  I need to get back to being able to focus through insanity.  We ARE talking about having a kid this year.  I need to be able to sit down and produce.

So I open up the floor to you, dear readers.  Offer up your suggestions on how to train you brain to focus, to keep it more in the story, or to get right back IN the story when you sit down to work.

:hands over microphone:

8 thoughts on “Dreams, Goals, and Focus

  1. I have no clue. There is so much STUFF running through our heads that we can’t focus. I can’t focus at church, and that really bothers me. Maybe we should do some kind of meditation before starting to write. I think maybe the best way is to shut yourself up where it’s really quiet with no distractions. I can’t write with the TV on or someone trying to talk to me. I hope someone that comments has an awesome answer for this.

  2. I’ll use specific songs or artists for specific worlds/characters/relationships/scenes. It works best when I can find one that perfectly encapsulates the core of the character or story.

    For example, Linkin Park’s song “In Pieces” fits the core of one dark fantasy WiP that I can only work on in sharp spurts (for the sake of my own emotional health). I’ve had it on repeat when working on the story, and now I just have to start playing the song to get into the mindset to work on it.

    (I use this for work, too—listening to the Christian rock band Red gets me in “work on nonfiction” mode.)

    Another trick I’ve been using on my Mac laptop is the ability to have multiple desktops, with different images. I have different backgrounds for different stories, worlds, and tasks. (With two that are designated “work” backgrounds.

    However, inability to focus can also be my body telling me something. Could be I’m tired, hungry, cold (I lost my cold sensation but can still detect and be affected by it), need soy milk (estrogen), have a migraine coming, need my anti-allergy treatment, am sick and don’t realize it yet, or need to cut the sugar and drink some pau d’arco.

    Yeah… Tracking down the specific cause can sometimes take a while.

  3. When I was in my twenties I could focus through anything. While I was in my thirties, I watched that diminish. And it wasn’t all because of the child. Now that I’m in my forties (OMG) and the child has school and I should be able to get my brain back in order…honey, it’s not the same brain. It’s not the one that can remember everyone’s birthday. This brain has to write everything down, and then can’t remember where the notes are.

    So I think maybe that’s a component, accepting that you can’t “get back to that” (wrong goal) to what you had then, because we’re not the same people. And thank God for that. But the important part of that idea is not to feel bad or feel like you should be able to do stuff like you could when you were younger.

    And then move on and figure out what you can do about your focus. Learn how to let go of the things you can and should, and how to temporarily set aside the things you can’t. Maybe try to come up with a time and place that cues your brain to know “this is my writing time” and an exercise that preps your brain to get back into the story. Like spending a few minutes writing, “In the story so far…and now we’re at the point where…[and this is what I’m going to make happen].”

  4. I don’t know if there is a concrete answer for this, but I think the root of the problem stress. Stress to produce and stress to keep up with your plan. If I were in your shoes, this would completely suck the fun out of writing and make it next to impossible to concentrate on any story. So, round of applause for being able write ANY words through all that.

    Maybe you need to put your writing time in a No Crap Zone. No crap about work, no crap about household chores, no crap about goals or dreams. You get too much crap in your head and you won’t be able to find the story in there. And who would? Because that much crap STINKS.

    Yesterday, you talked about having a Netflix day because you were sick. I’ll bet it was fun and relaxing because when you’re sick, relaxing is what you’re supposed to do if you want to get better. The body demands it. Your actual writing should be just that. Fun and relaxing. Why think about [insert responsibility of choice] when there are shapeshifters and fae trying to make it work in this crazy world YOU created? When you sit down to write, Have Fun and Relax should be the mission statement.

    I think LL’s meditation suggestion is a great idea. I’ve never done it, but I’ve heard it helps a lot for people with high stress lives. But really, any kind of relaxation ritual could work. Then your mind will be as blank as the page in front of you and you can put your full energy into filling it with words.

  5. I like Andrew’s and Susan’s suggestions, and would amplify them. I have a day job and am taking classes to earn my MBA and have family obligations too. And there are a lot of evenings when it’s just… too much … But when I read Wendig’s article yesterday, I had one of those epiphanies that went: The only reason it’s too much is because I’m telling myself it’s too much. If I don’t tell myself that, and instead think of: “The next hour is my hour of escapism… Let me live in my words’ world then.” I was amazed how much I wrote last night in that mindset–even though it was after 11pm, and crazy computer crashes, and tons of other worries. It was my moment of fun/zen for the day. (The one problem: I got so jazzed about stories and plot bunnies I kept myself awake for an extra hour…) And we’ll see whether this is sustainable. But it was illuminating as an initial experiment.

  6. Here are 2 things:
    1 – Introduce something that makes you accountable for not finishing. An example take an embarrassing photo – one that if you had anyone else see you would faint and hide. Give a copy of this photo to your most evil friend. With the contract of “if I don’t finish Novel X by May 1 – you publish this on my Facebook wall, Twitter and Blog”.

    2 – On a micro level- adopt a specific time to write (I recommend in the morning before you whittle away brain cells at EDJ) this becomes habit. To further get into habit- use a timer (like the one on your phone or a kitchen timer). Set it for 15 minutes. In that 15 minutes you can only do 1 of 2 things – either stare at a wall or write. After timer – for 5 minutes you can do whatever you want except write. Then repeat until you use up your time. You eventually will outgrow your timer.

    I also find it helpful to put notes to myself at my breaks or even end with the last sentence unfinished.

    I also use Evernote, Trello and Due apps to keep track of things. This way I don’t worry about missing things because I have them reliably stored (and remind me to do them if require specific time).

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