Saturday, February 13, 2010

Focus . . . errr. . . Refocus

Focus: a central point, as of attraction, attention, or activity.

I have a hard time focusing sometimes. Okay, okay. A lot of times. It’s always been a problem for me. Focusing, keeping my attention on things. I’ve become better at it over the years, being able to maintain my thoughts on tasks much easier than in the past. The problem, though, is that I often forget about other things that I should be doing because my mind is set on the goal at hand. And, that is just one of the problems.

In the perfect world I could sit at my computer for four hours straight and just write. Since I can pound out a good 2000 to 2500 words in an hour, that would give me between 8 and 10 thousand words in a four-hour period. An hour for lunch and goofing off would be followed by another four hours of disciplined writing, giving me anywhere from 16 to 20 thousands words of writing in a day.

In reality, my mind wanders, more often than not, something like every five or six minutes, I find myself stopping, checking the internet, getting a glass of water or something, anything to get me away from the story for about 2 minutes. If you figure there are 60 minutes in an hour and I stop every five minutes for a two-minute break, that’s about 16 minutes of wasted time, per hour.

But, it gets worse. After an hour of writing, I often find that I am getting up for a good ten or fifteen minutes. Let’s just call it twelve minutes and add it to hour previous total of 16. That puts me at 28 minutes per hour of wasted writing time, which significantly cuts down on productivity.

There’s more, though. Remember earlier when I said my mind tends to wander? When I say that, I am talking about wandering toward other story ideas and characters and settings, not necessarily if I fed the dog that morning or if I made sure the kids were dressed before they went to school. Often times, this mind wandering will lead me to stop the current story and start another one. And, herein lies my biggest problem as a writer.

I think Catherine put it best while we were talking earlier. She said something to the effect of: “I couldn’t write a story with all these other ones running around in my head.”

“Exactly!” I yelled (yes, yelled, but not in an angry tone). “That is exactly my problem. I have all these ideas running through my head and they get jumbled up in there and then I get bored with a longer project, and stop on it so I can write a shorter story.” I even waved my hands over my head in terrific dramatic form.

There you have it, my issue with writing is I cannot focus on any single story at hand before a thousand other, cooler ideas pop up in my head. What do I do when I have a cool idea in your head? That’s right. I stop and write on one of them for a while. It’s a bad, bad habit.

It’s such a bad habit that I pulled out a memory stick that has a bunch of stories on it and slapped it in the computer. Then I opened up a folder labeled, “Unfinished Stories.” I counted the file names and would you like to know what I came up with? A rather large number: 165 unfinished pieces, some of them upwards to 26, 000 words in. One of them, a novel I started, was sitting at just over 50,000 words.

My wife’s eyes grew wide, but that’s not the worse part. That was just on the memory stick. That’s not included stories I have on two different computers that I have started that are NOT on the memory stick. Add those stories together and the 165 number probably quadruples. Chew on that for a minute. 165 times 4 equals how many? In excess of 650 unfinished pieces, which is not as many finished stories as I have, but still, that’s a huge number.

This brings me to a HUGE problem. You know it’s big if I use all capital letters. I have an issue with discipline. If I were disciplined better, then I could focus better. I had this issue in school as well. Funny, it didn’t seem to hinder my ability to learn how to draw or play sports, but when it came time to do my studies, I had the hardest time focusing. It would take me two hours to do a twenty-minute homework assignment. Granted, I would stay with the books in front of me until I was finished, but I often wandered away, my mind and I traipsing through the fields of wars or championship games where, you guessed it, I was the hero.

Can you tell that school was hard for me?

I sit here in front of my computer, typing this, with more words of wisdom spouted from my wife’s mouth dancing through the pea that is my brain. When I said I have a hard time focusing, that I lose interest with stories too easily and start on something else, she just kind of frowned her wife’s frown and shook her head. She held out a story of mine that she had been reading—one that needs significant editing—and said, “If you want to get anywhere at this, then you’re going to have to focus on ONE thing at a time.”

One thing at a time. This is not easy to do with a person whose mind tends to speed up when thoughts enter in and then slow down to a near stop when the thoughts are added to others, making so many things near impossible to decipher.

Sadly, Catherine is right, like she so often is. If I want to get anywhere at writing, whether it’s in the short story market or the world of novels, I’m going to have to put blinders on and seriously focus on the story at hand; to not let my mind wander and take over, leading my hands to open a new document and add a number to the ever growing Unfinished Stories folder.

This is going to hurt. I can just feel the ideas rapping on the inside of my skull, calling to me, begging me to write them next, their little lettered hands raised in the air, their bottoms coming from their seats. “Ooo Ooo. Pick me! Pick Me!”


As tough as it may be, it is what it is and I have to teach myself to focus, to be disciplined. As I embark on this treacherous road of ignorance and loneliness, I beg the fledgling stories that spin and twirl on the dance floor of my mind, to forgive me, but I must do what I must do, if any of THEM wish to be heard and not just live on my hard drive….


  1. Exactly. It's the same with me, as well. I lose focus too easily, move on to different stories and so on.

    Thanks for this, buddy. Time to refocus.

  2. Focus good. Need more focus. And you need to get that book out there dude. It'll happen for you...

  3. I feel for you, AJ. I wish I could focus LESS. What Steve said. Finish your book! Because I'd love to read it!