Thursday, October 13, 2016

Hacking My Brain [Attention Management]

Let's be honest, when you think of your resources as a writer, TIME always comes up. You cannot make it if you don't devote time to it. Super simple. Something I had not considered really was managing my ATTENTION.

Sure, sure, we all know one of the most important things a writer can do is finish. However, what you finish may be more important than just finishing in and of itself. For example, I just finished writing the first section (50 handwritten pages) of Keys of Eternity. I consider this an accomplishment because when I started writing it a month or so ago, my main worry was whether or not I would ever have an idea again. (I just came off a several week depression in which the words had fled. It was rough.) However, the reason I bring that up is at the same time I had just contracted with an editor to do a full revamp of Chains of Fate, my first published novel, in order to make it look and sound more professional. My last contact with my editor was at the end of July, in which I told her that I wasn't ready to send her the next chapter. By my personal deadline, I expected to have Chapter 2 revamped and sent in by July 31st. Instead, I hit a major depression and in a fit of panic, I switched gears and started writing a then unnamed piece (Keys of Eternity) longhand in a notebook. I published the first page of that on Creative Chaos on the 10th of August. For those of you keeping score at home, it is now the 13th of October. So my editor has been waiting on Chapter 2 of Chains of Fate since the end of July. That's two and half months for a single chapter, which legitimately should only take me about a week to read and polish. This is not a good use of my attention.

Maybe I'm being too hard on myself, but if I'm going to be a professional writer, I need to have something that looks like professional standards. So how do I rein in my attention to keep it focused on the things which offer me the best long-term gains? I go back to my habit strategies. One of them is self-knowledge and another is scheduling (deadlines).

Self-knowledge (Gretchen Rubin: Better than Before), Knowing your Why (Steve Kamb: NerdFitness), Understanding your End Game (Self-Publishing Podcast), all of these things mean approximately the same thing: What is getting me up everyday to do this? I want to be a successful self-published author able to do my writing full time and make a living off of it. That means starting a new project at the drop of a hat when I have other projects languishing is not the proper use of my attention. I am not beating myself up over this because there are extenuating circumstances responsible for derailing me which have to be accounted for. This is mainly there for those days when I'm thinking of new ideas at a rate of three dozen a day and want to start on all of them while I have things I've already started or finished (but not edited) or am in the process of editing which require my attention. To become successful, I have to produce quality work at a workable rate. I have to finish the series I start. I have fans waiting (I think. Mom counts, right?). Then there is scheduling.

My daily schedule is pretty variable as I don't get off at the same time every day and there's not telling what I will actually end up being responsible for at home, so that feeds into it. Yet I can still assign myself a certain amount of time every day, such an hour, to work toward a goal and thus keep focused attention and momentum on my side. Deadlines, as much as I'm not a super fan, are also useful. They let me know when something needs to be done, when my inner office manager, Charlotte, is tapping her foot with her hand out saying "Assignment due". I imagine Charlotte as a rather prim little lady who likes charcoal pinstripe business suits with bright robin's egg blue blouses and patent leather heels (sensibly chunky of course) wearing her hair gathered at her neck to keep it out of her face while she types. She also has mismatched eyes she uses to her advantage to be slightly unnerving. So sue me, my inner landscape is well peopled. You should hear me talk about the insane asylum most of my characters come from. But I digress. Charlotte, voiced by Naomie Harris, reminds me to get things done. I will admit I've gotten bad about tuning her out. Good news, she doesn't hold that against me. Am I saying that everyone should imagine themselves a task master in order to keep up with their deadlines? No, but if it works do it. I also have a calendar, which I even occasionally update (gotta get better about that).

I hope this was helpful, ladies and gents.

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