Focus: Are You Centered Or Are You Fragmented?

Any writing day can feel overwhelming if you’re trying to juggle several projects. Right now, I’m proofing a book due next week, finishing one not due for a while, and plotting a novel to get ready for NaNoWriMo. I blog and Twitter and do Facebook. I have a novel critique to do. EEEEEEEEEEEK!

Bouncing Off the Office Walls

My own writer’s personality prefers working on one project at a time. I like to fully immerse myself in the characters and plot, writing and rewriting, rethinking and editing, polishing and submitting. In the early years, before it was my career, I could do it that way. Everything was written and submitted “on spec,” and no one was waiting for my prose, so I could take my time–and do one thing at a time.

Just thinking about what needed to be done today put my brain in a cramp. I could almost feel the neurons short-circuit.

Is It Possible to Focus?

First, today and every day, I need to accept the fact that (except for the critique), none of the other things will get finished today. I need to make my “to do” list reflect this, and yet move each project closer to completion. (I’ve tried just working on one thing at a time before, but I found I lost mental contact with my fiction characters and had to keep starting over. Working on the books daily helps me “remember” who everyone is and what comes next.)

I’ve discovered that if I make a “to do” list that says I will write for one hour on each project that needs to be moved along, then I will do that. I set my kitchen timer for one hour, get my project papers out and ready to go, put on blinders, start the timer, and then focus on that one project for an hour.

I don’t get up during that time or think about any of the other projects (which are out of sight–very important). I work on the computer that will NOT connect to the Internet, so there is no temptation to check email. I let my answering machine take calls. [NOTE: This is me on a good day like today. The "yesterday" me made the mistake of getting online early in the morning, and it was downhill from there! Will I never learn?]

Just One Hour?

Can you get much accomplished in an hour? An amazing amount! In fact, I am constantly surprised how much just fifteen minutes of concentrated writing time can produce. At the end of a writing day where I’ve focused one hour on each project, they all have moved along significantly toward the finish line.

Do I like writing this way? Not really. But there’s one big plus: I’ve discovered that I can write many more hours in a day when I change projects–six or eight hours, as long as I stretch frequently. Writing on the same novel, I am fairly burned out in three of four hours of writing (four hours total, usually a couple of two-hour sessions.) So productivity is higher when I have to work on multiple projects with multiple deadlines.

Maybe–in the end–I’ll enjoy working this way for that very reason. In the meantime, it’s a good way to get the work done.

Just curious… What is your own preferred way to write? One project at a time? Multiple projects?

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