So fantasy author Jim Hines of the Libriomancer series has decided he’s ready to quit his day job and write full-time. And is now posting several guest-blogs about the challenges, such as focusing on writing when there’s the Internet. The post lists various apps that can help make it harder to stop work and browse online; Tobias Buckell has more suggestions here. While I don’t have the link handy, Kristine Kathryn Rusch has blogged about how she writes on a dedicated, no-Internet access computer.
As the linked pieces note, no solution is going to work for everyone. Some how-to articles posted on The Freelancer argue, for instance, that a certain amount of distraction is desirable: spending an hour watching YouTube is bad, but resisting any and all distractions only drains energy. Other articles have cited studies indicating that even a slight distraction can throw us off kilter.
When I started out, I read several how-to books that insisted your writing space should be totally dreary and unappealing, with absolutely nothing to think about but writing, and absolutely no windows. I can safely say if that was the only way to write, I’d find another career.
Anyway, all of this writing about focus (and it’s not like these are the only articles I come across on the topic) has me thinking about my own performance. Distracting as it is to have the puppies in the house, I must admit the added time pressure seems to have improved my focusing: I don’t waste as much time online as I used to. I’m certainly not at the level of absolute focus some of the writers talk about, but I’m inclined to agree with those Freelancer articles that absolute 100 percent focus may not be necessary.
When I’m working on Demand Media articles, for instance, I always wind up spending a few minutes checking various blogs I read. But it’s only a few minutes, and I still get the articles done on schedule (if not, it’s because the article turns out tougher than expected, I’m half asleep or other issues). On occasion I do screw up and go for a long internet binge—but I don’t count those stretches towards my writing time (I “lost” a half-hour today visiting one blog for instance).
There are other projects where my focus is a lot poorer. Unfortunately they all involve Internet research so shutting off distractions ain’t an option. Fortunately, though, I seem to be more focused on them, too. In short I have my own mental benchmark for how much distraction is OK—maybe I should just keep to that rather than try for absolute focus and kicking myself for failing (if it doesn’t impair my work or my schedule, I really don’t think it’s disruptive).
I’ve also noticed (and I know I’ve mentioned this before at some point) that breaking up the day—work, tea break, more work, exercise, more work, dog walk—seems to keep me focused as I never have to keep it up for too long. I’m wondering now if I can adjust my schedule enough that I can shift more of the breaks to the afternoon. Right now it’s 3.5 to four hours of solid work—is that a right-size block, or would a cut in the middle be wise?
I shall experiment.
And since I’ve mentioned the pups, below is a portrait of Plushie taking a belly-up nap.