Concentration. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Yet there is much in our modern lives to prevent anything like concentration, even if we knew what that meant. One dictionary definition is ‘intense mental application; complete attention, absorption in a subject’. How often do we really give our full attention to something for any length of time? Some Tibetan monks believe Western concentration levels to be about three seconds. They practice many techniques which enable them to cut themselves off from the rest of the world for far longer than this, so absorbed in their meditations or studies that they do not hear what goes on around them.
When we’re really writing, deep into the world we have created, with three-dimensional characters throwing their weight around in our stories, we reach levels of attention from which it can be difficult to lever us. The music we were listening to finishes and we do not notice. Noise that might have bothered us disappears. This is concentration and this is what we need to achieve to write our 3,000 plus words a day. But to get to the stage where that can happen is sometimes hard. We need to learn to be selfish and gain some peace in which to write. I have a few suggestions for you to do this.
1. If possible, designate hours for writing, even if it has to be at night. Some members of the family (notably husbands, wives, partners, parents) may resent you if you stay up very late, but no one seems to mind if you get up early. An hour in the morning stolen from your sleep or lie-in may be easy to arrange. And if it means you go to bed a bit earlier, no one much seems to mind that either. For some reason they will see you as virtuous.
2. Enlist the help of your loved ones. Some are supportive and will give you time to indulge (I am lucky – John is helpful, tolerant and will cook dinner if I’m in the throes). If they are not, then you will have to use subterfuge. Leave the house, pretend you’re shopping, order on-line and go to a cafe to write. Invent hairdressing appointments, dental appointments and sick aunts or friends in hospital. But for the sake of your sanity, you have to make this work. Can’t think of an excuse? You are a writer – of course you can! Make stuff up!
3. Tell people you are a writer and explain that you need a little space in which to practice your art. Your friends and family need to know they can’t just pop in for coffee at all hours of the day. If they look unconvinced, tell them they’re in your great work. If there’s no chance of that, you can always add them to the dedication afterwards. Of course, they will want some evidence of the writing, i.e., you do actually have to sit and write something. If you spend a couple of weeks of laying about producing nothing and watching re-runs of Friends, they will cease to believe you.
4. The telephone. Land-line and mobile. Switch them to answer phone, voice-mail, whatever you have. If someone is ringing with a real emergency, of course you must answer, but otherwise this is your writing time. Write.
5. The evil internet. If you can’t ignore emails and keep checking your stats on your blog, you will get nowhere. And Twitter is the most intrusive thing ever invented. Remember that definition: intense mental application. Complete absorption. Turn it off, turn it down, move away. Give it your full attention for a while twice a day, or three times a day. Maybe first thing, coffee time and last thing at night. Otherwise leave it! (I’m a fine one to talk – I have to ration myself on here!)
6. Young children. Difficult. When they need feeding, they need food now. When nappies (diapers) are dirty, they need changing. And you can’t turn your back on young children for a second before they are in the fish pond, feeding the baby to the dog or hanging themselves on the blinds. Find a friend who needs a couple of afternoons to practice her yoga/Pilates/have an affair and offer to have her children in exchange for two peaceful writing afternoons of your own. Yes, you can do this. I know four children sounds appalling, but you will learn new strategies with your own and quickly discover that larger groups of children are easier than smaller ones. They often behave better and eat better and when the others have gone they will sleep better. Anyway, live with it. This gives you writing time.
7. Say No. This is the biggie. No, you can’t come to the Jumble sale and Coffee Morning, but you will donate your old shoes/books (what?)/money/cakes (shop bought or made by mum – you don’t have time). No, you can’t help with the swimming club, you’re allergic to chlorine. No, you don’t want to go to an Anne Summers/Jamie Oliver/Jewellery party. Just say no, thank you. You friends will resent you? Your real friends won’t. They might think you’re slightly odd, and if you’re a writer then you probably are (see https://patwoodblogging.wordpress.com/2012/07/31/why-i-write/). Others may pull faces, dislike you, dismiss you from their Christmas card lists. Fine. So be it. They’ll all be back when you’re famous.
So, what are you waiting for? Get selfish. Get writing.