Practice at Bringing Things Back into Focus

I think there three kinds of people in this world: reporters, people to report about, and those that haven’t learned to accept who they are. I’m one of the ones that haven’t yet learned.

I don’t want to be a reporter. I’m uncomfortable there, looking into things, finding out what’s going on, jumping into what everyone else is doing, but I’m also afraid to walk away from the crowd. I’m afraid of being alone. I’m afraid that if I’m not out there watching and reporting, I’ll miss out on something important.

I believe that I want to be alone and creating, alone and thinking, alone and at peace with myself. What stops me? Why do I allow the other voices, the ones outside my own head, tell me what it is I SHOULD be doing, what it is I SHOULD be caring about?

I read the book “Essentialism” by Greg Mckeown last year and it began to change my outlook in positive ways. I just added it to my “re-read in 2020” list. Through it, I learned that I can pare down, not just my stuff, but my thinking and my obligations so that I can focus and do my best on what is most important to me specifically.

Everyone is different. Some people need the community, the feeling of being busy, the camaraderie, to be happy. It has only brought me anxiety and confusion. I want to be more outgoing, but it doesn’t serve me. It drains me and leaves little energy for me to create with. From the outside, it may look like I have plenty of time to help you with your project, but I don’t, not without sacrificing my own.

I need more quiet, reflective time, away from outside obligations. I can start by curbing my social media habit. I can’t sit among three hundred conversations and have a clear thought of my own. I’m reacting 90% of my week. It doesn’t feel conducive to creativity.

Funny…I know I’ve complained about this before, very recently. I’m not complaining this time. I’m making observations and (hopefully) adjusting a course. To start, I took the social media buttons off my phone’s main screen. I had to go find the button to open it, remember that I was looking out of habit, and it gave me the space to stop myself. It didn’t last long though. I noticed they were still at the bottom of my “recently used” screen and my brain rerouted the habit through there.

Over the weekend, I took a complete social media fast. That worked well. I just did not look until Sunday evening when I wanted to share something cool. I put the phone away and focused on working in the yard all day on Saturday until I was exhausted. And then Sunday was spent going out to breakfast and then shopping at Costco with my husband. Yes, that is considered one of our favorite dates! We go up and down every aisle just looking at things, laughing, and wondering if we need that or if it’s a good deal. I think we were there for three hours. We’re easily entertained, and we came out with a month’s supply of our favorite foods, a new whiskey to try (they don’t give samples of alcohol, whatever), and some new sheets.

I was feeling overwhelmed and addicted but I willfully chose to do something else than my habit. I didn’t have to make an announcement. I didn’t have to find a way to stop the app from working on my phone. I didn’t have to call in reinforcements to make me stop. I simply chose not to open the apps. I gave myself a goal and I achieved it. One day without any social media turned into two. It was the start of a new habit.

On Monday, I kept the ball rolling by making the choice to only post my article and spend thirty minutes over lunch replying and checking in with friends. Then I put it away. By Wednesday, I was scrolling here and there to occupy myself while I waited and then it snowballed. My time total on Wednesday was over an hour and a half, far less than in the past but still too much. On Thursday, I started first thing in the morning and before noon I was grumpily tapping away responses to people (in my journal, not online) instead of writing anything productive.

It’s Monday now and I’ve refocused once again. I’m looking for a reminder, like a bell when I meditate, that pulls me out of my unconscious habit and brings me back to what I choose to focus on. Like learning to meditate longer and longer, instead of getting angry or frustrated that my mind has wandered, I notice it and bring it back to my peaceful focus. Each time I do, the focus is sustained longer and longer. It’s practice. And practice makes progress.

Practice makes…better!

20190514_1022191324249862372238474.jpgIt’s week three of making space for writing every day of the week and I think it is already starting to pay off.

Years ago, I read that to learn to read better, more complicated books, you should start reading and gradually you’ll learn to read for longer sets and to tackle more difficult texts. I started with a “classics” reading list for young adults and the suggested reading from my set of The Great Books of the Western World.

I started by changing the first thing I did every morning from TV to a book. Ok, it wasn’t the FIRST thing. The first thing was to visit the bathroom and then get a big cup of coffee. THEN, I’d get my book…and my glasses…and a pencil and journal. I’d start with the more difficult reading and keep at it as long as I could understand what I was reading. As I read, I’d take notes of things I found interesting and wanted to remember or comment on later. At first, I could only read that book for about ten to fifteen minutes at a time before my mind started to drift away. That’s when I’d move on to the easier book, usually some sort of classic fiction but sometimes my old favorites, Stephen King or Douglas Adams. I’d spend another fifteen to twenty minutes reading and then move on to the rest of my day. I had young kids then and they needed me. Thirty minutes a day was my limit for months, but it quickly evolved into an hour and then two most days.

I’m so glad that I’ve kept those reading journals! If I had to rely on my memory as to what I’ve read or what my reading habits have been, it would seem that I haven’t gotten anywhere in the last ten years. I look back on the journals and I know that’s not true. The proof, the trail of learning, is right there, written down for the world to see.

Today, I read for about three hours a day, in one hour stretches. I’m usually reading two books at the same time, some sort of fiction and non-fiction. I read the non-fiction first and then feast on the dessert of a sweet novel. It’s a beautiful way to start the day and sometimes I even work in an hour in the afternoon.

But…what does this have to do with writing? I was reading an article that mentioned writing journals a few weeks ago and put the two together. If the reading journal and making a tiny space for reading every day gave me what I have now, why wouldn’t it work the same for writing? And here I am.

I picked up one of my empty journals to use as a writing log. In it I list the date, the time I started on each project, and how long I spent on it. It’s a lot like my reading log. It has been amazingly satisfying at the end of the year to see how many books I’ve read and how many hours I spent reading them, so I thought maybe it would be even more exciting to see how much time I’ve spent writing!

It’s working so far. I put it at the beginning of my day to sit and write for two hours, Monday through Friday while my husband is working in the next room. I read in the morning, do my workout, work in the yard, and then sit to write. It doesn’t matter what I write, as long as I’m writing something and not checking Facebook or texting a friend.

This past week I found something else that really helps me focus. Earplugs! I’m such a light sleeper that I wear them every night so that I don’t wake at every sound throughout the night and they are working wonders for focus while I’m thinking. I used to sit and hear a bird, then my son’s phone, the cat, my husband’s phone call, etc. What can I say? I’m easily distracted. But with the earplugs in, it’s like I’m all alone. People walk through the room and I stay at the screen. Kids are in and out of the livingroom, watching tv, making food, I’m focused on my words. The only thing I can’t get past is music. My sons’ both play guitar and with my earplugs in I can mute out words but, for some weird reason, music drifts through and pulls me away. I’m able to shut my office door on those occasions, so it’s not a problem anymore.

Who would have thought earplugs would be so helpful? I wish I had discovered them in college when I was trying to write all those essays with my roommates around!

So here I am, tapping away on my keyboard. I can only stand to sit here for an hour at most before I get antsy and then everything I write starts to look bizarre to me, so I take a break at forty-five minutes and walk around my property. I don’t take my phone with me, even though sometimes I want to take a picture. That walk is to stretch my legs and think in silence. It’s very relaxing and centering. Today I stood at the top of my hill and looked out at the mountains still covered with snow. I’m a lucky girl.

To do anything well takes practice and you must make time to practice, not just shove it where you can. “I’m working right now.” I tell my sons when they come looking for me. They smile and back out of the room. “It can wait.” They say. They understand. They’ve learned this lesson too.