Howdy – J Monkeys here. Happy Saturday. Today, I’m writing about something near and dear to my heart – maintaining focus. I can’t speak for other writers, but for me, maintaining focus on a project and actually finishing it is my biggest challenge. I absolutely have attention issues. More than one person has labeled me as ADD (attention deficit disorder). Sure I can sit on my duff and read a book that captures my interest in one sitting, but staying focused for fifteen minutes on something that is anything less than captivating is neigh unto impossible.
When I was a kid (I mean a junior high school student), sitting through the 60 minute church service my mother dragged me to each Sunday was torture. Until I found a way to amuse myself that allowed me to project appropriate behavior. I’m Episcopal. We use this nifty book call The Book of Common Prayer for our services and in it is written the stuff the priest says, the stuff the participants say, directions for the priest and a bunch of options for different times of year.
In order to sit quietly throughout the service, I began to try to read every word on each page (I believe that’d be pages 355 through 367) faster than the priest could say his bit and the people could respond. Yes, I passed that time, not so much paying attention to the spirituality of the ritual, as racing to the end. It worked. I sat quietly, without fidgeting or talking – which, let’s be honest, was really my mother’s goal.
The other thing I’d do whenever I was bored, on the bus, in study hall, walking home from school, trudging across campus in the frigid winters of my college years, is play a little head game I liked to call “What If”. What if there was a freak snowstorm and I was trapped at work with _____ (fill in your crush of the day) for a week. What would I do? How would I survive? How would I pass the time? Or What If I won a $265,000,000 lottery. How would I spend the money? What if I slipped through time and ended up in the 14th century? You get the idea.
Now that I’m a stay-at-home mom, my focus issues are much worse. I’m at the beck and call of three other people. People with constant demands and no filter. Here’s an example from this afternoon.
I started to put in a load of laundry, but the screaming I heard reverberating through the dryer tube that leads outside caused me to race up to sort out the problem. One child needed a glass of water. One had a skinned knee. The third didn’t want water and poured it into the dirt to make mud. While I cleaned up the skinned knee, mud-boy decided he’s thirsty after all. I fetched him some water and finished my first aid chores, only to realize that I need to start cooking supper immediately if there was going to be a prayer that it’d be ready in time. Once the roast was in the oven, the children bellowed for me to come see the fabulous ant hill they had made in the yard. On my way out to look, the dog got excited and ran through the ant hill, twisting his ankle. He cried wretchedly, but as I tried to pick up the 85 pound fluffy beast, he wiggled free to chase the little madmen racing around me as if I were a May pole. This sort of thing continued for two and a half hours. I finally managed to go back to the basement to move the laundry to the dryer only to realize that I never finished putting it in or started the wash cycle.
Now try writing a book amid this chaos. And because my mind wanders, I’ve got several books percolating in my little brain. Since I’m naturally inclined to lose focus anyway, when you add this constant refocusing by outside forces, I find myself in a very bad spot. Productively speaking.
You might be wondering how I ever get anything accomplished. Well, I’m going to tell you the secret right now. I am rigidly forcing myself to work on one thing at a time. I have a bunch of stories that I’m dying to write, but I will not allow myself to start them until I finish the task before me. I’m telling you, if I had this much self control when it came to junk food, I’d be a size 4.
That’s the secret I have to share with you today. It doesn’t matter how many great ideas you have, if you never actually finish any of them. To borrow from Larry the Cable Guy, you need to Git ‘er done! Put your butt in your chair and write. Don’t start anything new until you’ve finished your WIP.
Today’s question: How do you entertain yourself on long car rides when you’ve nothing to do but sit there?