Writing Tips: 5 Ways to Improve Focus
Updated: Jan 20
I've been deluged lately: writing my novel, fulfilling editorial projects, posting on social media, answering emails. Writing takes up a big chunk of my day and oh, how it comes in so many styles and platforms. I mean, how do I disengage myself from my very emotional novel-writing (involving gangs, scams, pimps and love addiction) and still have the perkiness to reply to a very upbeat email? How can I think of new, twisty plots for my story when I'm itching to do a little one-liner throwback on Instagram?
How, really? One thing that's needed for sure is — FOCUS.
"Energy flows where the attention goes." When you focus on something, you're actually feeding it and making it grow. And when you feed something, it expands. That's why we need to get away, to take a break from our daily distractions at one point. This is why writing retreats, like Words and Wanderlust, exist.
How else to feed our focus? Maybe my suggestions can help.
1) Pen before phone
Write first thing in the morning — I'm talking the moment you wake up. In her book, The Artist's Way, author Julia Cameron says that it's during this, early liminal stage that our focus and creativity surfaces. She suggests writing three pages each morning to help writers focus, generate new ideas, and set a positive, fluid tone for the day. "Reserve reflective, creative writing for the mornings," says my friend Alvik, whose job involves writing papers, campaign and analytical reports on a daily basis. Emails, text replies, and everything else can be done by lunchtime or in the afternoon.
2) Set a limit
Daunted by a whole afternoon of actually sitting down and writing at your desk? Don't be. Just give yourself two hours. Yes, you read right. An hour or two of focused writing is better than six hours of writing, with that "I'll just peek into my Instagram/Facebook/Twitter feed" mentality in between. Don't feel guilty if you can't write for eight hours straight — as some authors claim they do. Two hours of writing — sans social media — is better than nothing.
3) Ditch the distractions
"The greatest enemy of writing is interruption," says bestselling author Joyce Carol Oates. I hate to say it, but yeah. You must distance yourself from your phone, Netflix, that bottle of wine, the washing machine — for at least an hour. Or, take it to the next level and go on a writing retreat. It's an investment on yourself, and as a writing retreat enthusiast who've gone to Europe, Asia, the UK and Georgia — a week away in an utterly gorgeous location like, say, Tbilisi surrounded by fellow writers can propel your novel or memoir forward in ways you've never even imagined.
4) Write in short bursts
Write something, anything — for ten minutes at a time. Get a writing prompt (I like opening a book and setting my finger on a word on a page) which can be a word or a phrase. Set your phone timer. Pick up your pen or type on your laptop sans any stops or inhibitions. Forget grammar, forget spelling and typos — just write. It's called the Pomodoro technique and it was bestselling author Liz Jensen who first introduced me to this writing method, when I first met her in France two years ago. It has been an incredible technique in getting new ideas into my writing projects.
5) Put it away
I'm a big believer of Stephen King's advice of stashing your first draft inside a drawer and taking it out after some time has passed. This way, you'll look at your words with fresh eyes, new ideas, and maybe a completely different perspective. Still not done with your manuscript? Then take time away from your writing project and take a walk — or a trip! Experience life. Once you do, you'll find yourself refreshed, renewed and ready to write again.
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