The focus of a writer

February 6, 2018

The focus of a writer

It’s going to be all right.

Go ahead and say it again. Repeat it. Do it as many times as it takes to sink in.

It’s going to be all right. Really.

If you’ve ever thought of walking away from your non-writing activities – social media, working out, chores around the house, and so on — so you can focus on your work-in-progress, you know the subsequent panic.

Many of us innately associate writing, whether it’s a book or a poem or a short story, with luxury time, time we might have left over after everything else in our daily lives is done. Want to write that chapter? But there’s a pile of dishes in the sink. Have a book in mind you’re eager to start? But you have less than 100 followers on Instagram, so what lit agent or publisher is going to pay any attention to you?

I know this feeling all too well. Full confession: I tend to focus too much on marketing my writing and not enough on, you know, actually writing.

Bad habits can rule our focus, and we begin to spend too much time on the wrong things. For me, that’s social media. My personality drifts to those platforms, and I get sucked into their black hole.

If you’re a content creator, you know what I mean. Social media presents us an opportunity to create something — a clever post, a photograph — then publish it, then sit back and watch the vanity metrics do their thing. We’re drawn in to the immediacy of social media. We don’t have to wait for validation of the content we create because we can watch it in real time.

It's akin to being in love with the idea of being a writer, but not with the work of being a writer. Click To Tweet

Social media isn’t the only excuse we use to avoid the grind and occasionally soul-crushing exercise of writing. We look at the messy condition of our living room and feel compelled to straighten up because that’s what we’re supposed to do. We pinch belly fat and think a good bike ride takes greater priority over our writing in the here and now. The lawn needs mowed, groceries need bought, the garage cleaned out, and so on.

All of these activities and chores are important. That’s indisputable. But if you’re using them to avoid writing, then you might reconsider your priority list.

One of my favorite writing books from the last couple of years comes from Dinty W. Moore, called The Story Cure. Buy it, read it, and pay attention to Chapter 8: An Apple A Day.

Moore notes that novelist Isabel Allende had some good advice:

Show up, show up, show up, and after a while the muse shows up, too.

Moore had his own take on it:

If I allowed myself to get up from the desk and go watch Law & Order any time it felt as if my muse was not in attendance, I’d be a guy who can recite every Law & Order episode from memory rather than a guy who writes books.

I don’t want to be the guy with a thousand followers on Facebook or the one whom dozens of people watch on Instagram stories. I don’t want to known just as a guy who podcasts or tweets funny things.

We want to write. I want to write my book and let that be the spring from which everything else flows.

Let’s repeat what we said at the beginning of this post. It’s going to be all right. It’s going to be all right if you step away from social media for a while, or ask someone else to handle the household chores, or to not workout for a week or two, if there’s a story inside you that needs to get out.

If you notice my Facebook author page isn’t updated for a while, or there’s been a break in the podcasting, then you’ll know what I’m up to. I have my head down, I’m at my writing desk, and I’m focused on what ought to come first — writing the book.

What about you? Do you deal with this from time to time? If so, tell me in the comments how you break out of those bad habits to focus on writing.

Dave is a professional writer and photographer from Lancaster, Pa. His writing podcast, Creatively Genuine, is available on iTunes and Google Play.

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1 Comment
    1. I love your post! I’m not trying to write a book, but I am trying to both research, blog, and write about my ancestors. And, yes, all of those other things pull at me and keep me from getting the work done! I watched a YouTube video today – instead of some work – about forming habits. I need to form intentionally make some habits to accomplish more.

      It’s going to be all right right!

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