“I easily sink into mere absorption of what other minds have done, and should like a whole life for that alone.”-George Eliot
Sing it, sister! I could-and I do mean this to be taken at face value-spend all of my time reading. Yep, from classic and classically obscure literature to history and biography, I’m more than willing to sit on my a** 16 hours a day just taking it all in and enjoying the lovely, lovely words. Fortunately, my curiosity about the actual world around me-a sort of native wonder-lust (no, that’s not a typo)-is too keen for that to become an exclusive way of life. As a writer, I’m also well-aware that every minute spent reading is a minute taken away from my art and the enjoyment of life that leads to creation; this often-frenetic push-pull is a state experienced by all writers, everywhere. Including George Eliot, who so eloquently expressed this in the above quote.While I don’t know what she did to stay focused enough to write ‘Middlemarch’ or ‘Daniel Deronda’, here are some little tricks I use to stay (mostly) on track.
- Be consistent. The saying “fake it until you make it” applies here. By adhering to a fairly regular writing schedule-even if you initially don’t accomplish much-you’ll soon develop a habit that you crave.
- Become a curator. Don’t sit down to write just anywhere that seems handy; have a stake in your artistic space. By taking control of your surroundings, you can turn a blah work area into a creative (and productive) haven. What do you need from your space in order to work to your best ability? Quiet, beauty, serenity, stimulation, inspiration, order? Keep that feeling in mind when you set up your studio. Your output is affected by what is around you-sights, noises, smells. Think about what you bring into the room, and why. I need chaos in order to function; my writing studio is designed accordingly. It’s quirky, creative, practical and warm. I love spending time there; the more time I spend there, the more I write. It may seem a bit obsessive, but vetting everything from your desk to paper clips will allow your mind to focus on what’s important: your art.
- Be a good listener. I bet you pride yourself on being a good listener. Why not, right? It’s an admirable trait. Now try turning that understanding inwards by learning to listen to your creative needs. They’re usually not shy in letting themselves be known; we’re just really good at ignoring them. Be receptive to your creativity. No matter how many distractions you pile on top of it, it’s still there: by training yourself to listen for it, it will never desert you.
- Stimulate yourself. Visually, that is. Creativity isn’t born or sustained in a vacuum. Be open to alternate sources of stimulation. Visual tidbits-photographs, quotes, lyrics, cartoons, sketches-are wildly inspiring. One wall of my studio is covered with anything that catches my fancy. The result may seem like a collection of odd and pointless ephemera, but I see it as a reminder of the endless potential for creativity we all possess.
- Be a sport. Try working against a (real or imagined) deadline. I’m as much of a thrill-seeking deadline racer now as I was as an AP English student in high school, and for the same reason: adrenaline, baby! Although it is not for everyone, nothing makes me work harder or better than a looming end-point over which I have no control. Accomplishment in extremity.
How do you stay focused? Do you use mental trickery or more practical means to keep to the task at hand? Do tell!