I’m a writer new to the professional game, hence I read a lot of tips. More than I should. A lot of the advice involves focus and discipline, like they’re one and the same. Looking back over the course of my life I have to say that I don’t agree with that parallel.
Time and again I hear comments about focus that usually centre on whether people are good or bad at it. The general consensus is that people with “good” focus stick to a single task and see it done well. People with bad focus either take on too much and leave loose threads or they get bored with their single task and don’t see it through.
I’m not even going to tackle the gender associations each of these sides has. That is an argument for another day.
I work with someone who has ADD; she’s trained herself over the years to focus on one project at a time so that she can see to its completion. Seems like a solid plan, right? Except that single project is usually all she can focus on. Seriously. Nothing else can or will penetrate her head if she has a task she must see to. NOTHING.
In a work environment where everyone has multiple roles and responsibilities, single-minded focus just does not work. This personality quirk has a tendency to drive me nuts because I’m the exact opposite.
I’m a natural multitasker and I’m good at it. I can juggle multiple tasks succinctly and see them all through to near-perfect completion (I say near-perfect because I am not perfect). Sometimes, like many humans, I forget others aren’t exactly like me, which is why I get frustrated with people who can’t multitask.
What does this have to do with writing? Everything. At least for me.
The ability to research multiple topics, come to understand casts of characters, write story notes about every new project that pops into my head, blog, and move from story to story without getting stressed or confused by all of the different pieces enables me to keep my writing spark thriving.
Months ago, I hit a wall with my main work in progress (MWIP). My protagonist is at a dark emotional point in her life that I hit years ago. I like writing from a well I know and understand, but at the same time it’s extremely difficult to grapple with that mindset and relive it in order to get it on paper. Things got to the point that I just stopped writing. I couldn’t get out of the emotional pit I’d re-entered for my story’s sake and it was affecting my day to day life.
Frustrated, I wrote about my problem on Anxiety Ink. The feedback I received was incredible. I’d been trying to be a good, focused writer and not abandon my WIP. I don’t believe in writer’s block so I was determined to stick things out. A former elementary teacher used to give me heck for reading more than one book at a time because I’d mix things up. Eventually, I stopped reading altogether. If I couldn’t do it my way, I wasn’t going to do it his way.
Instead of embracing that stubbornness and writing another story, I listened to that voice and all those tips I’d read.
See how well that went?
Fellow writers told me to character head hop or even move on to another project until I was centred again. Thinking back, I feel stupid that I needed such obvious advice, and permission to step back. But I did. This is one of the reasons having a community of like-minded individuals is so important. They’ll pull your head out of the sand if you can’t do it yourself.
It was freeing to come back to my keyboard and write about something else. Anything else at that point. Taking a necessary breather was what both the story and I needed. Calling my break a breather, not abandonment, also soothed my psyche. I wasn’t a quitter, I just needed space to regroup.
I’ll tell you, the space has done wonders. I can actually think about my novel again. I’m neck deep in a short story project but my MWIP constantly spins the wheels of my subconscious. As do my other WIPs, but they need more time to mature.
My “lack of focus” is an integral part of my writing process. Just because I don’t have laser focus for one project doesn’t mean that I can’t buckle down when it counts. It doesn’t mean that I don’t get things done or take things seriously. I find my ability to task-hop keeps me refreshed and alert. And I always write myself notes so that I know where I left off and where I want to begin again.
That’s how I work in a nutshell. I know it drives some people crazy but I don’t listen to those people. I just keep writing.
As for that particularly nagging third grade teacher, he also told my mom that I have a gift for writing and to make sure I never abandon it. Thus I forgive him. And I still read more than one book at a time.