Friday, February 28, 2014

How Do You Focus? (Especially in Short Time Slots)

A few months back, I wrote a post on how to write with a newborn.  It was only semi-serious, and a lot sleep-deprived.  In fact, for the first three months after having a baby, I didn't get a lot of writing done.

Now that I'm making some serious progress, I do find that my strategies toward being productive have changed dramatically since becoming a mother.  For one thing, I can only write while the baby is napping.  I don't try to work on my manuscript while she is playing because 1) I'm keeping an eye on her and I don't want to get too involved with my laptop and 2) I know she'll demand my attention in a few minutes, and there's only so much distraction I can take while trying to write a scene.  This will probably change as she takes fewer naps, but at this point, it's my reality.

Therefore, I really have to make the most of my time when she does nap (and hope that her nap will be longer than 20 minutes).  In the past, it's taken me a long time to get my brain in writing mode.  I used to prepare to write by reading writing blogs for encouragement, and then procrastinate on social media for far too long.

With limited time slots for writing, I have to get in the mood much faster.  I thought I'd share some of my strategy:

1.  No social media or blog reading during write time. Write time is write time, period.  (I may send off the occasional tweet *about writing* during this time, but I don't stick around to see if anyone responded).  I read blogs & social media when it's okay to be distracted (aka when the baby is awake).
2.  Take planned breaks.  If I happen to actually get several hours to write (this usually happens when I have babysitting), write time is still write time, but I know I can't go that long at full steam.  So I give myself breaks at planned intervals.  The key is not taking a break every time you're stumped for the right word--that will just lead to endless distraction.  Instead, I make myself deals: if I write for 1 hour, I can read 2 blog posts. 
2.  Allow yourself to be scatterbrained when drafting.  Sometimes, I repeat information in my world building or character development.  I never used to do that, but it's just a reality that I can't remember everything I've already written now, and I don't have time to do as much rereading each time I start up again.  I have to let go of the compulsion to be perfect and realize that those type of things can be caught later. Beta readers are actually great for that sort of thing.
3. If you're stuck, make a plan of attack rather than trying to write through it. I used to be kind of obsessed with getting words down on the page.  If my fingers weren't typing, I wasn't being productive, I thought.  Now, if I use 45 minutes to decide how revise a scene, without actually revising it, I realize that is still making progress.  I write myself little notes in my manuscript, and do the actual writing work next time. This, I suppose is also known as "prewriting." And it's useful.
4. When possible, save revisions for longer chunks of time.  For new scenes, it's perfectly fine to be scatterbrained and choppy.  That's why the frenetic writing style of NaNo worked really well for me.  However, revisions require more finesse and concentrationPlan accordingly.
5. Break revisions into steps for short time slots.  Instead of trying to fix everything at once in an entire chapter, maybe just fix one aspect that needs work: a plot inconsistency, one character's dialogue, etc. You're more likely to make progress in a small timeframe. Or, as part of your prewriting, you could simply make a list of things that need to be fixed.
6. Use music to bring you back to the same headspace.  It's surprising how quickly music can help you focus, especially if you have certain albums that correspond with your WIP. (Although, if I'm not careful, this can wake the baby right up).

How do you get focused? I'm always looking for new tips!


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