Attention, Writers! (It’s a Choice)

If you’re traveling west, you’ll end up in California. Go East, and you might land in New York instead. The direction you choose determines your destination.

But what makes you choose one direction over the other? For most people, it’s whatever grabs your attention. If warm beaches and surfing snag your attention, you’re more likely to head west than east. As your attention goes, so goes your life.

What does that mean for your writing life? It means that when distractions come along–and they will–these distractions can snag your attention, pull you off course and change your direction if you’re not careful.

The Formula

Whatever grabs your attention (internally or externally) determines the direction you head. And the direction you head determines where you end up. This is true for everyone. For every area of your life, the formula is the same:

Attention –> Direction –> Destination

How can you make this “principle of the path” work for you instead of against you in your writing life?

This? Or This?

You can remember that we have choices. We don’t have to be ruled by the things that initially grab our attention. (Attention-grabbers include pop-up ads when you surf the web, commercials for food on TV, new cars as you drive by a car lot, a fight with your teenager, and being snapped at by your boss. Attention-grabbers can be those worrisome thoughts that flit through your brain like mosquitoes, about family or money issues which have nothing to do with writing.) We can choose to give our attention to these things. Or we can remove or disentangle our attention from something and deliberately place it somewhere else.

According to Andy Stanley in The Principle of the Path, “Whereas emotion fuels the things that grab our attention, intentionality fuels our decision to give certain things our attention.” In other words, distractions excite our emotions and snag us almost against our will, but we can intentionally choose to give our attention to something else, like a goal.

Death to Distractions

This is good news for writers! We all need a strategy for dealing with things that distract us from our writing goals. Distractions do more than rob us of our writing time that day or that week. They can set us on a path that will lead us to a destination we don’t want.

You don’t think so? Does it sound melodramatic? Well, look back on your life. Are there areas you now wish you’d given more attention to? Maybe you wish you’d paid more attention to your health or your marriage or the way your handle money. Things might be better for you now if you’d given more  attention to those areas then.

Fork in the Road

The same thing is true of your writing career. If you are consistently turning away from unwanted distractions and choosing instead to give your attention to writing and writing-related activities (reading, studying, networking with other writers), you’re heading in a good direction. You will end up at a different destination five, ten or fifteen years from now.

Each time a distraction tempts you to veer away from your writing, you’re at a fork in the road. You will choose one path or the other. I hope you choose the writing path!

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4 Responses to Attention, Writers! (It’s a Choice)

  1. Liz says:

    Thanks for bringing this topic to our attention ;-)

    I am easily distracted by checking email & Facebook many times a day & then “researching.” To help me solve this I am going to use an old netbook as my Writing Computer =I had my husband dismantle the wi-fi on it & I bought an extra battery for it.

    I’m also spending writing time away from some distractions in the house. And I’m going to bemoremindful of how & when /where I lose direction.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Liz, this is a relatively new problem for writers. Some days I long for the time when I started writing: pre-Internet, pre-computer, before most of the distractions that plague us today. Being mindful was easier back then. Now we have to make a concerted effort to be mindful, as you have discovered. I, too, don’t have Internet on my laptop or my Neo2, which does nothing but word processing on two AA batteries! It has become an entire business now for tracking software showing people and company managers where people are getting distracted and wasting time. You are wise to pay attention to how and when you lose direction. The safeguards you mentioned will go a LONG way toward helping you make the most of your writing time!

  2. Heather says:

    Reading this, I realize I need to give less attention to what other people think (and sometimes my own negative thoughts). Do I really want to pay attention to rejections or the idea that my manuscript won’t get published? I don’t think so. Instead I should be focused on how to get it published, ways to make it better, etc. Thanks for the reminder!

    • kwpadmin says:

      Heather, that is SO VERY TRUE. We are distracted by so many things, and other people’s opinions can really worm their way into our writing mind and undermine our confidence. Focusing on the things you can control is definitely a better use of time than focusing on things we can’t. The Serenity Prayer for writers in action! :-)

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