Being Present to Writing

In a post a few weeks ago, I talked about the fact that even when I make a schedule to write, I don’t respect my own writing time. Sometimes I don’t write during my writing time because I’m so distracted by so many competing priorities. Respecting my own writing time gets particularly tricky at the end of the year. I’m scrambling to do all of the things that I meant to do and haven’t yet. Little is getting accomplished. Panic is setting in. Everything seems equally important at the same time: significant other, family, gifts, social functions, work. The list goes on. It’s overwhelming.   

When I’m staring down a million things that all need attention, having a meditation practice (or any mindfulness practice) pays off. Despite all of the busy thoughts flying around in my head (What should I eat for breakfast? I need to email five people. Wouldn’t this be better if I had a little coffee first? I’m missing something important on Twitter. What’s going to happen next in the book I’m reading? I’m bored. Shouldn’t I be doing something more interesting? I don’t have time to just sit and breathe.), I make myself sit and meditate for twenty minutes every day. Maintaining consistent awareness of something as boring as breathing takes a surprising amount of focus.   
 I need to learn to concentrate on my writing as intently as I focus on my breath while meditating. The same thoughts that sidetrack me during meditation also distract me when I write.  Lots of times, even though I’ve scheduled writing time, I’m still not prioritizing my writing. Just because I’m sitting at my computer trying to write doesn’t mean that I’m actually WRITING.

I’m trying to train my mind to focus on one thing at a time these days. I’m working on paying deep attention to one thing at a time and simply noticing how I feel about it. I start writing with every intention of maintaining a laser focus on the task at hand. But it gets hard. Thoughts race. Emotions surface. I don’t feel productive. So I start being “busy” and give into distraction in an effort to feel like I’m getting things done. I often mistake being distracted for doing actual writing.  As I’m writing this, my phone is on. It just beeped, telling me that someone started following me on Twitter. I have seven different programs running on my computer at the same time. I have nine browser tabs open. I’m also in the middle of cooking lunch. I just got a Facebook notification! Surely it’s important!

I don’t need all of those programs, windows, and browser tabs open to write. All I need to write this post is my Scrivener project. I just need to focus on writing while writing, just like I focus on breathing when meditating.  

Learning to focus on a single thing has helped my writing practice. I’m relieved to see that the idea of multitasking is out and singletasking in coming back into vogue.  Doing a one thing at a time well rather than do many things poorly at the same time isn’t easy. Just like doing something simple like focusing on the breath is harder than it sounds, so is the idea of concentrating only on my writing.   

In 2016, I want to try to be more mindful and conscious about what I’m doing with my time and my life. I’m planning to keep working on being fully present while writing.`

Here’s my plan for more focused writing in 2016:

  • Daily meditation
  • Create an intention for focus
  • Scheduled writing time
  • Door closed
  • Phone off
  • Only one computer program open at a time
  • Noise canceling headphones and white noise
  • Using a timer.

I’m already doing some of these things and notice that when I put them all into action at once, I suddenly have no choice but to write. Turns out that focusing on writing isn’t easy, but it has made me a better writer.

[Photo: Palo verde flowers. Tucson, Arizona, 2014.]