Category Archives: Distraction/Procrastination

Some & Soon & Specificity

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Let me give you the truth. (And yes, you can handle the truth.) I am frustrated by the lack of progress with my Work In Progress (WIP). Perhaps calling it a SIP–Snail In Progress is more accurate. I suspect one (of the many) reasons for my slogginess is the overwhelmingness of it all. Novels are so stinkin’ big and messy and apt to misbehave at every page turn. You know? I think maybe you do, my ginger snap.

So, I’ve been on high alert for a simple way to progressively make more progress, and I think I may have landed on something–specificity.  Lemme explain.

Last week, I was at this training for my day job and one of the speakers (Dr. Don Berwick) used a catchy phrase that sent up a flare in my brain:

“Some is not a number. Soon is not a time.”

Say, that’s, why, that’s true. The doc had something there.

Then! I read this quote by the brilliant and darling Kathryn Erskine recipient of the 2010 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. She said, “I don’t like the word soon because you don’t know when it’s going to sneak up on you and turn into NOW. Or maybe it’ll be the kind of soon that never happens.”

 

But wait, there’s more.

Then! I listened to this guy I “met” on Facebook. Comedian Tim Minchin addressed a graduating class at the University of Western Australia. (You should listen to the whole thing, ahem, after you finish reading my post, si vous plait. It’s really kind of brilliant.) Anyway, among his many glinty shards of wisdom, Minchin imparted this gem–“I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals. Be micro-ambitious.”

Is it just me, or is there a theme emerging?

You see it too? Oh, good.

adams-pumpkin-2So, let’s say you (and by you, I mean, I) want to write a middle grade novel. You need at least a good solid 30,000 words. That’s daunting. But instead of diddling (or in my case, doodling), why not passionately dedicate to the pursuit of a short-term goal?

Let’s do the math and get very specific. (I cannot believe I’m going to do math in front of you. The terror.)

You are going to write 30,000 in 6 months.

That equates to 5,000 words a month.

And that means you’d need to pump out about 210 words a day (six days a week).

That’s less than one page of writing a day. It’s specific. It’s possible. (I want to see nodding here.)

It’s not easy, but it’s a lot less scary than staring down the whole 30K.

Am I right? Yes, yes, of course. (Again with some nodding please.)

Instead of being macro-lethargic, I can be micro-ambitious–and reach my goal. I will be declared dauntless! Okay, okay, so it’s not sexy, but a declaration of dauntlessness ain’t nothin’ poo-poo.

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

While I say “no” to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) each November (sorry, my little pumpkin muffins), I am sure the momentum it creates can be intoxicating. If that kind of specificity works for you, I say huzzah! Ever forward!

Remember, my chicken dumplings, some is not a number.  Soon is not a time. Specificity is the ticket to getting things done.

Now that you (and I) know this, let’s become micro-ambitious sometime soon, mm-kay?

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring

 

mindfulness and the writer’s mind

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

You’ve heard of mindfulness, yes? Okay, so maybe you’ve “heard” of it, but your understanding is a tad fuzzy. If I give you a link to a delightful introduction via the lovely Anderson Cooper, can I trust you to come back to Frog on a Dime to read the rest of this post? Oh, you know I can never deny you anything. Okay, my little gum drop, have a look.

You’re back! [Trying not to look surprised] So, this mindfulness-ness thing, now you know it’s really about being aware, about being present–about being. Am I a pro at that? Oh, you little snickerdoodle. You do know how to make me chuckle. All I know is practicing mindfulness is a good, life-enhancing thing that I believe can and will enhance my writing (and yes, yours, too).

I came up with a squatty list of ways mindfulness may do you (and me) good as a writer:

  • Mindfulness improves your ability to focus. Instead of being a mind-wandering writer, you can be present for the project at hand (literally on the keyboard).
  • Mindfulness makes you aware of life’s simplest moments–waking, showering, eating, walking, breathing. Relishing and being present in even the mundanity (sure, that’s a word) of every day enriches the way you are able to translate simple, sensual experiences into words for your readers.
  • Mindfulness may unplug writer’s block – when you’re blocked, it makes you stressed and being stressed keeps you blocked. Mindfulness helps to calm and center you so the ideas can flow. Because who among us wants to be wordstipated?

No doubt, this is not an exhaustive list. Let me hear your ideas. I am aware. I am present. I am ready to listen. I am headed to the kitchen . . . (see, I need more practice).

Want to know more about the benefits of mindfulness? Here’s some fine information from the good folks at Harvard Medical School. Enjoy.

I am a human being, not a human doing. ~ Dr. Wayne Dyer

top 4 post-workshop mistakes to avoid

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Vermont College of Fine Arts Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Vermont College of Fine Arts
Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Kathi Appelt, David Macinnis Gill, Dana Walrath, Joy Peskin Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Kathi Appelt, David Macinnis Gill, Dana Walrath, Joy Peskin
Photo by Vicky Lorencen

You roll your quarters, register, and highlight the dates on the calendar. You pre-pick your plane seat and pack your bags. You’re going to a workshop! You look forward to it for months, fret about how many pairs of shoes to take, and finally, it’s time to blast off. I got to do just that earlier this month when I attended the amazing 12th Annual Novel Writing Retreat at Vermont College of Fine Arts. (If you’d like a great recap of the experience itself, I highly recommend visiting Debbi Michiko Florence’s site.)

I don’t know about you, but time passes at a sloth’s pace leading up to an event, but then the workshop itself whisks by at road runner speed. If you’re not careful (and by you’re, of course, I mean, I’m), it’s easy as gliding up an escalator to let the whole experience slip away once you’re back home.

Watch out for these post-workshop mistakes . . . 

1. Rushing to query or submit your manuscript. Some writers think, if I don’t send that editor or agent my manuscript as soon as I get home, they’ll forget all about me. Not true, especially when you wisely offer a little reminder in the first sentence of your cover letter about how you met. Even if a presenter gives you a teensy window–like six weeks–to submit, take your time. Better to email a glistening, well-groomed manuscript, than to rush yourself and offer a schloppy copy. Your work is a reflection of you. Go for shiny, not speedy.

2. Neglecting your notes–if your notes are handwritten (mine always are), type them up. Seriously. It won’t take long, and while you’re typing, you’ll be reviewing the gems the presenters shared with you. It’ll be easy to highlight the parts that resonate with you too. [Next, pop some brackets around a hint or suggestion that perfectly applies to your WIP and cut/paste it into your ms. to serve as a reminder when you return to that section.] Don’t want to type? Use an old school highlighter or sticky notes to spotlight the bits you most want to recall. Put those pages (or copies of them) in the folder of goodies (research, hard copies, feedback) you’re compiling for this new novel. The idea is to incorporate every epiphany, aha and eureka into what you’re working on now, plus you’ll make them easier to find for future follies, that is to say, novels.

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen

3. Disconnecting with the people who “clicked” with you. Friend them on Facebook, send a follow-up email or connect with them on LinkedIn. Send a text, a tweet or smoke signal, whatever works for you. These are your new peeps who share your passion. Passing on this chance to expand your circle is criminal, okay, well, at the very least, a pity.

4. Cooling off—you arrived home pooped, but positively giddy about a new idea for your WIP, but then your fervor fizzled. Family, your tyrannical to do list and Facebook eclipsed your euphoria. Don’t let them! If you have a critique group (or a beloved writing buddy), share what you learned with them. Talking about the lectures will help to solidify concepts in your mind. Your group/buddy may also be able to help decide out how to best use what you learned (and of course, you can return the favor). Ask someone to hold you accountable and offer to do likewise.

How about you? How do you keep the momentum moving after a workshop or retreat?

It is our choices, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities. ~ J.K. Rowling

that’s it. time to talk about “the F word.”

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Photo by Vicky Lorencen

Photo by Vicky Lorencen


Don’t bat those Hello Kitty eyes at me. You knew we’d have to talk about this eventually, didn’t you?

That’s right, my little Tater Tots. It’s time to talk about “The F Word.”

It’s time to FINISH that thing you’re writing already.

Oh, yes. I know. We’re supposed to be all about the process.

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Fiddle faddle.

Fiddle dee dee.

The whole philosophy of enjoying the journey is true–but only to a point. Think about it. What would you say to a friend who booked a non-stop flight for her dream trip to Paris, then spent the entire week riding a shuttle around LaGuardia because she was enjoying the “journey” too much to actually set foot in France. I’d say her fromage had slipped off her cracker!

Here are my guesses as to why you have trouble finishing a manuscript (these are purely conjecture, of course, and in no way reflect my own personal experience):

Fear of failure
If you finish this thing, that means you’ll have no excuses left. You’ll have to submit it to an editor. And that could lead to rejection. Ouch. Pain bad. But if you never finish and never submit, you’re 100 percent guaranteed to never be published. Funny how that works.

Faking it is easier than finishing it
Are you telling fellow writers you’re still working on your manuscript, when you know darn well, you’d have to hunt your files for half an hour just to dig up the most recent version? Maybe it’s time to go legit and do the work.

Forgetting that writing is hard work
If you get to the point where your manuscript is a challenge, do you give up because you figure you must be doing it wrong? Sure, some days the words will flow and your muse will make you her favorite pet project, but most days aren’t like that. Writing is hard work. If it was easy, celebrities and talk show hosts would be doing it. (Drat. That did not help my point.) Don’t let the workiness of writing stop you from forging ahead.

Fuzzy focus
You’re “sort of” working on lots of things. You get stuck with your novel, so you decide to write an article because it’s shorter and more manageable, but then you need to do some fact checking and get derailed, so you thumb through your files and find a cute picture book idea you loved from years ago, so you fuss around with that until you remember why you abandoned it in the first place, so you go back to the novel, but by then you’ve kind of forgotten where you were going with it . . . [cue the sound of spinning wheels]

Enough with WHY we don’t finish. Let’s focus on WHAT to do about it . . .

Make a plan, Stan.
Maybe it’s deciding how many pages you can produce in a week. The number of pages you decide on–high or low–doesn’t matter at this point. It’s all about forward motion.

Go public with your plan.
Tell someone “I am going to finish my novel by [insert date here].” If you’re really brave, announce in on Facebook!

Identify at least one person (or a group) to hold you accountable for meeting your deadlines.

Are you not finished because you’re stuck? Well, then get unstuck.
Back up and move to another part of the manuscript. Get a paid critique. Read it out loud. Talk it over with someone who’s more experienced than you. Troubleshoot it with your critique group. Do whatever it takes to get unstuck. Staying stuck is simply not an option. You’re too fine for that.

Build in time to celebrate and reward yourself as you hit your targets.

Finally, flesh out an “I’m all finished” list–
Don’t just plan on finishing. Go a step further by compiling a list of where you’d like to submit your completed masterpiece. It doesn’t have to be a comprehensive list. Record the name of an editor or agent–maybe someone you met at a conference or blog you follow–then keep adding to your log. Having a head start on this list will fuel your momentum. It might sound like a mind game, but it can serve as reminder that your manuscript really will be finished, and when it is, you’ll be ready to take the next exciting step. And I can’t wait to celebrate your successes with you!

I want to confess that I was supposed to finish my second middle grade novel in 2013. I worked steadily and came close, but I’m still not done. For 2014, I’m going to apply my own advise and make it happen. Oh, it’s going down!

Okay, that’s it. Thanks for listening, Writing Warriors.

Our talk about “The F Word” is finished.

My therapist told me the way to achieve true inner peace is to finish what I start. So far today, I have finished 2 bags of M&M’s and a chocolate cake. I feel better already. ~ Dave Barry

dealing with distractio . . . oh, look a pumpkin!

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DSC02086My train of thought tends to run, not on traditional click clack track, but something more akin to a corkscrew roller coaster, swooshing down tunnels and circling back on itself to the point of distraction. (Does your choo choo drive you cuckoo too?) But it’s not only in my brain, I have external attention snatchers too. I’ve got innies and outies!

See, I used to think all of my distractions were primarily outies–you know, phone calls, people, social media, the refrigerator . . . and I fantasized about escaping to a little cabin all by myself. What bliss to sit alone with my thoughts and focus solely on my writing.

A few years ago I had such a fanciful opportunity thanks to the Highlights Foundation. There I was in a darling cabin–yes, in the mountains in early fall–with someone to prepare gourmet meals for me, and a group of encouraging writers to enjoy them with. No phone, no household chores, no job, no reason not to focus. I was working on a middle grade novel in the peace of my idyllic sanctuary, and then my brain said, hey, I wonder if I can get Internet access up here . . . and off I went checking email (this was long before I joined Facebook or I would have been looking at that too). [Insert eye-rolling red face here.] Yes, I got some real writing done, but that experience taught me that I can’t blame external forces alone for feeling distracted while writing. Internal distractions can be just as powerful (and sneaky).

Here are some suggestions to help combat internal distractions:

Buy a kitchen timer–set it for an allotted writing time, or do what I do–write for as long as you can sustain your focus, and then set a timer for 15 minutes to take a break. When the rooster timer dings at my house, it’s back to work. Do not use your phone for a timer. We both know why, right?

Keep a notepad and pen next to your computer. When stray thoughts bubble up–find shoes to go with that dress, get toothpaste, invent a way to make cellulite look cool–jot it down so won’t have to worry about remembering it or worse–jump up and do it.

Set regular writing appointments (because being irregular can be a drag). Promise to honor, cherish and protect those appointments in sickness and in health til the end of the writing project. How does this help with internal distractions? Just like establishing a regular sleep schedule helps you achieve a rest-promoting rhythm, so too, regular writing times get your brain in the writing zone more quickly and your muse will know when and where to find you. (Right, Enid? She’s my muse!)

Exploit your natural resources. If you have other writing friends, ask one of them to be your accountability partner. It’s miraculous how much better I focus when I know someone is going to check up on me. You can also use your critique group for this purpose, if they set regular deadlines for submissions.

Take a writing class. I was so frustrated with my lack of forward momentum and inability to stay focused that I actually signed up for a class through the Institute of Children’s Literature. That’s right, I’m paying someone to keep me on track. And you know what? I’ll be finishing my second novel this year, finally, all thanks to the deadlines set by my teacher.

Follow the one hour rule. Okay, so it’s not really a rule. I made that up. But the idea is to sit down to write one hour before you ll have to be somewhere else. For example, some days I go into the office at my day job one hour early for the sole purpose of working on my own writing. Knowing I will need to shift gears at exactly 8:30 a.m. makes me stay on track. (I’m not a morning person, so I don’t want to get up early and then waste that time.) This could also work if you know your kids will be home in an hour or if you have one hour for your lunch break. We know high school kids who work and go to school tend to get better grades because they know they have to make good use of study time when they get it. That same idea holds true for writers. If you have a little window of time, don’t wiggle through it. Use it!

Use carrots, not sticks. In other words, when your mind starts to meander down a rabbit hole, bring it back to the surface by reminding yourself if you write X number of words (or pages) today,
you can ___(insert reward here)_____.

Practice mindfulness. I’ve already blogged about mindfulness this year. And if you don’t mind, please check out that post to see if this practice would help you to maintain focus and center on the present.

Keep your goals in sight. A writing friend of mine, Rachel Anderson, says it helps her to write her goals out and put them near writing area. “That way, when I get distracted, I see the note and most times turn right around and go back to the computer.” Go Rachel!

Let’s move on to taming external distractions . . .

Yes, there’s an app for that too. Social media is probably one of the primary time munchers, wouldn’t you agree? There are apps you can get that will take up where your self-discipline lags.

Create a “Cone of Silence.” Rachel Anderson also told me, “I write in silence…no TV, no radio, and I cannot have my e-mail or Facebook open or Facebook open–all are distractions to me. My mind works best when it is completely open and the quiet does that for me.” Another writing friend Kelly Barson selected the tiniest room in her home for her office. It’s pretty ingenious–there’s no room for kids or dogs to congregate! Brilliant. Let peace and quiet reign.

Teach your family to recognize what writing looks like. For a long time, my family didn’t clue into what’s happening when I’m writing. They thought that if I was sitting in front of the computer and my fingers were still, that I was not writing and was therefore approachable to answer very important questions, such as, “Smell this. Does this smell okay to you?” or “Have you seen my other sock?” They didn’t understand that writers are writing in their brains before it comes out the keyboard. Now they know because I told them so. I’ve also told them not to interrupt me unless someone is bleeding or something is on fire and there’s no one else who can help. That hasn’t entirely squelched distractions, but it’s made my husband and daughter think twice before asking, “Where did you put the thing?”

Most all of these ideas can also help you overcome distraction’s slutty older sister: procrastination. Oh, she’s fun at first, but she’ll only get you in the trouble. Steer clear of her!

I could not resist . . . I’m breaking with tradition and sharing not one, but three, quotes with this post. If one inspires you, why not put it on the wall in your writing space to help you stay focused.

Sand was dribbling out of the bag of her attention, faster and faster. ~ Sarah Blake

It helps me to set small goals to reduce distraction because I can dance with distraction until daylight.~ Rachel Anderson

At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door and say,—’Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson