After having sat on my rear end for three months since I arrived in Australia, struggling to churn out one or two blog-posts a month and complaining that I just couldn’t get back into writing, I finally got over myself at the end of September and re-opened the novel file on my computer. I began working my way through the pages of notes my last beta-reader gave me in January. It was a slow, bumbling process at first, but I’m happy to report that I’m now getting back into the swing of things.
Recently I’ve read a lot of blogs about writer’s block, and some on how to make the most of your writing time. I realised that my problem was not one of writer’s block, but lack of focus. This is my two cents worth. I hope it helps someone else out there.
Back in 2001 I returned to studying at university, but found that I couldn’t focus with so many balls juggling in the air. One morning when I should have been studying, I saw something on TV’s home shopping channel. I know what you’re thinking – why was the TV on when I should have been studying? Well, I had just done an aerobics class on video and the TV was still on. Why was I doing aerobics instead of studying…?
Well, you can see where this is going, right? Instead of settling down to do one thing, I was trying to do everything at once. Need I say more? Complete lack of focus.
So what did I see on the home shopping channel that morning? The Betakit Global Study System for scholars and students. It sounded simple enough and I needed a lifeline so I grabbed the phone, gave my credit card number and the little box arrived in the post a few days later.
It consisted of two CDs with various tracks of sound harmonics overlaid with white noise or music. The tones that you hear (but are not aware of) enter your brain and stimulate it to its optimum level of concentration. There are several tracks for different things, but the main Focus track runs for 30 minutes. The idea is that you concentrate on your work – studying, writing or whatever it is – for 30 minutes with stereo headphones on, and then you take a fifteen minute break in which you do something physical or manual.
Chores such as washing dishes, dusting or vacuuming, even showering, can be broken into fifteen minute segments and done between the half-hour periods of absolute concentration. I used the system through four semesters of part-time studying and never looked back. By the time my course was over, I had decided to write my family history, so I continued to use the system for that, and for all my writing since then. In the past twelve years – while working full-time – I’ve clocked up five full-length novels, one novella, several essays and articles, a smattering of plays and about 40 short stories, in addition to almost 100 blog-posts since 2012. So I think that means the system works!
The thing is, once you are in the habit of doing things in 30 minute and 15 minute segments, there are no limits to what you can accomplish. Living as I am now, in someone else’s house, I have taken on certain domestic tasks because in terms of my visa I am not allowed to work, so the least I can do is keep the house running smoothly day-to-day while its owners are out working and earning the money that helps me to stay here.
What an ideal situation for a writer, you might be thinking, but without some kind of routine and order to my day, I was drowning. Either I was getting caught up in the domestic stuff and not writing, or I was spending hours at my computer and getting neither writing nor housework done properly. Then the guilt would set in, followed by the worry about the lack of book sales – all of it disastrous to a writer’s mind.
My mind works better when it concentrates on one thing at a time, but if I worry that the other tasks are not getting done, then I can’t focus properly on any of them. A month ago I remembered my Betakit Global Study System. At first I couldn’t find the discs. I knew I’d packed them somewhere, but in which box?
So instead I started with the simulated idea of it: some classical music (no lyrics), and a trusty kitchen timer. Now I am back in the habit, and it’s working again. I’m in the writing zone for 30 minutes, after which the domestic tasks each get their fifteen minutes of attention. I repeat the process every 45 minutes, and so it goes through the day. Don’t be surprised if you knock on the door in the afternoon and find that I’m still in my dressing gown because that particular 15-minute segment hasn’t happened yet. You have been warned!
The system works as well for me as it has always done, but I realise this is not for everyone. Some years ago I suggested the system to one of my writing buddies and she tried it, but she found that working in rigid sessions of 45 minutes just wasn’t for her. I suspect she is better at multi-tasking than I am.
I eventually found where I packed the discs and the booklet that came with it, but I’m not sure if it is still available in the world. A Google search didn’t produce anything new apart from a system called Prosper which seems to be based on it.
Personally, I don’t think it matters what system you use, as long as you find one that works for you.