How Do You Focus When the Ideas Aren’t Flowing?

How do you focus when the ideas aren’t flowing? Am I the only one hampered with distractions? While searching the internet the other day, (conducting research of course), I came across a pitch generator that uses the letters of your name to determine how you should pitch your book idea to publishers.

According to this generator, my pitch using my first name should be for a “high-voltage tragedy about an exuberant ghost’s failure.” Well, that was so much fun I tried it again with my last name. Then my brother’s name, then my third cousin’s name…you get a clear picture of my afternoon, right? A session that began with a specific plan, ended with letting distraction stand in the way of productivity. Anyone ever play “predictive text” on Twitter? That can distract for hours!

Going down the rabbit hole.

It all started with the blank page, my biggest obstacle.  All that whiteness creates overwhelming anxiety for me. While some writers see a blank page as an opportunity for total creative freedom, I just freeze.  So, how do you focus when the ideas aren’t flowing?

To answer this question I had to consider what actually works best for me, not what everyone says should work for me.  Realizing that trying to fit within “accepted norms” wasn’t helping, I set out to determine three things that hinder my productivity, and come up with a plan to create new habits to help my focus.  Here is what I discovered:

I am a perfectionist.

That old “do it right or don’t do it at all” philosophy somehow became my mantra, and it is quite a burden. It is challenging for me to write a first draft of anything, whether it’s a book review, an article, or an outline for a story idea, because I have this notion that everything must flow from my mind to the paper in perfect form. I’m sure you can guess how this is working out for me. To get over the fear of the blank page I started jotting down my random thoughts into files on my computer and saving each thought in a separate document.  This helps me in two areas: there isn’t a blank page to contend with, and since there is already the start of a rough draft on the page, it releases me from perfectionism.  It’s not fool-proof, but it has been helping.

My inner critic is brutal.

There is a little “mean girl” inside my head just messing with my creativity, and filling my head with doubts about my ability to write. This is tough. The key here is to set my work aside for a day or two when possible. This appeases my inner critic by accepting there may be some changes needed. I usually find that I return to the project with a clearer head and am more able to see which areas need improvement, without using any negative self-talk.

Setting goals is counterproductive for me.

This doesn’t even make sense, but as soon as I set a goal, that voice inside my head starts saying things like, “You can’t do that,” or some other such nonsense. This is not just a writing phenomenon with me either, as I discovered one day while exercising with my husband.

We typically walk around the lake close to our home a couple of times each week.  It’s really beautiful and is a nice change of pace.  Anyway, I’ve been trying to build up my endurance by setting short jogging goals.  It never fails – as soon as I say, “I’m going to run to the next tree,” the task becomes impossible to accomplish. It seems the tree actually keeps moving farther away, my body starts protesting, and it’s harder to breathe. It’s really quite a sight. Yet, if I don’t set goals, how can I push myself?  I’ve found that by setting an “intention” to do the best I can rather than a hard-fast goal, I am more successful.

The reality?

The reality is we are all a work-in-progress. Just being aware of the things that stall productivity can help.  If you find yourself in a situation that takes you away from your intentions, it’s time to take a break. Be gentle with yourself. Get a cup of tea or a snack. Go outside and do some yard work.  Or just stretch.  Whatever works for YOU.  By moving the focus away from the things that aren’t working and concentrating on developing realistic long-term habits, you are creating the best possible environment for your own success.

So, how do you focus when the ideas aren’t flowing?

*This post originally published on www.readerviews.com.

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