So there I was this morning, sitting at Starbucks (as I do), writing away at my book. It’s a book on Lyme disease, as my others have been too – this is my fourth. Writing is really a great pleasure of mine, but it can also be a source of frustration when the words don’t seem to be coming and some days it seems I have the attention span of a peanut.
I speak to many people who would love to write a book, or a blog, or a newsletter – but don’t because they feel like they don’t know where to start. Or they don’t feel confident in their writing skills, or their ability to focus and follow through with it. Books in particular seem really overwhelming. So for those who either want to write something, or are currently writing something and have those days of struggle, I thought I’d share a few tricks I’ve learned that make it easier to focus and keep the project moving forward. Here are my favorites:
1. Choose a consistent place to write.
It doesn’t matter if it’s Starbucks or the kitchen bench, I have found it’s helpful to write in the same place. My first book, The Lyme Diet, was written at the Starbucks on Balboa and Genesee Ave here in San Diego. My second and third were written at my kitchen bar countertop in my loft downtown. I was surprised that I wrote at home since I thought my spot was always Starbucks, but that’s the place where I started, so that’s where I kept going. It doesn’t matter where it is, it just has to work for you, be replicable and consistent.
2. Choose the background noise – silence, cafe noise, music etc.
I listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons every single time I sit down to write. Firstly because it drowns out any annoying background noise, secondly because I really like it and we don’t listen to much classical music at home, and thirdly, because it too becomes an “anchor” that provides consistency and association. As with the location, sometimes the association with something is helpful for getting into that headspace. Don’t tell me that you don’t remember “the song” you shared with your first boyfriend (or girlfriend). You listen to that song today and those memories come flooding back. Well it’s the same with writing – listen to that music and your brain will go to the place where it remembers the “writing” association. If you start it out with writing, it will keep bringing you back to that and it will help you to write in the future.
3. Put “focus” helper essential oils on your feet.
I have a blend that is designed to be good for helping focus and concentration. I thought I’d give it a try, I have nothing to lose, right? Well, holy smokes, it works like a charm! At first I thought it was just coincidental – I have good writing days and less good writing days, then I had a few good ones in a row. But now, since I’ve been using it, they’ve all been good days. There’s a light at the end of this book tunnel after all.
4. Write a really good outline.
If I had to choose one tip, this would be it. The key for me in getting started with anything is having an outline – not only to make my goals more succinct, but to break it all down into manageable parts. Having an outline is imperative to any writing project from a blog post to a university essay to a book (yes, I scribbled the main points I wanted to make in this article on a scrappy piece of paper today – that’s an outline!). I thank my Bachelor of Arts degree for teaching me how to write a decent outline and transform it into an essay – that’s about all it gave me – but it’s served me well overall. Trust me, if you’re stuck, start making a list of main topics you want to express, and just keep bullet pointing or numbering until you have a good amount of detail. Then you really just have to make sentences from the ideas, but the content is already spelled out. It is also great for setting daily goals of what you want to get done.
5. Recognize a bad day and go shopping instead.
Some days are good writing days and some are bad writing days (unless you have item #3, then they’re all good). Prior to that I had some really crap days where nothing was coming. I stared around in Starbucks, checked out my to-do list, and lurked on Facebook. I have two pieces of advice in these circumstances:
a) just walk away and realize that next time will be a better day. Go shopping. This works ok so long as the crap days aren’t the majority of them, if that is the case the project will never get finished, in which case;
b) bribe yourself with a small goal. Just promise yourself 2 points, or 3 points – something really attainable even on the worst day. Use discipline and simply make yourself do it, then promise yourself a reward, no matter how small. Sometimes you just have to suck it up. Other times, those 2 or 3 points will get the creative juices flowing and you’ll be able to write more (that’s never happened for me, but I told myself that anyway just in case).
I really think the key is to break whatever your project is into manageable parts. That doesn’t just apply to writing either, it’s a good strategy for life in general. Set your goal of what you want to achieve, break it down into parts, then into smaller parts, then daily goals. Spend some time the night before or morning of just ruminating on what you’re going to achieve, and picture you’ve already done it. Feel how good that feels. Then off you go to your happy writing place, put on your happy writing music, and off you go. And if all else fails and it’s a bust on any given day, give yourself a pat on the back for trying, realize tomorrow (or next time) is a completely different day, and do something fun or productive that you’ve been putting off for lack of time.
Let me know what you are writing. It might be a journal entry, it might be a blog or an article for a magazine, or it might be a book. It doesn’t matter what it is so long as it’s fulfilling for you and it makes you happy. I’m sending good writing vibes to you!!