Archive for the ‘concentrating’ Category

“Do you fancy a pint?”


“What are you doing tonight?”

“Not much, how come?”

The two exchanges above are typical for me. Particularly the “what are you doing tonight?” question. Frequently, I try to set aside time for writing. And equally frequently, when someone asks me what my plans are, my answer is “not much” or “nothing”, despite the fact that I set aside time for writing, or reading, or just sitting quietly on my own and watching a film.

Strangely, it often seems to me that saying “I’m busy” feels like a lie if my plans just revolve around me. If my plans revolve around another individual, I am a lot more likely to stick to them then if it’s just me who is getting railroaded if things change. It feels almost rude to say “Actually, I am busy. I was planning on staying in.” I worry that people hear “I’d rather do nothing than hang out with you,” or “I’m washing my hair.”

But equally, I have observed a common trait in a lot of successful writers: steel. I can’t find another way to put it. It’s in the eyes, just look at AL Kennedy:


There’s a determination there, right?

A lot of writers seem to be able to lock themselves away, work hard, and, most importantly (for the purposes of this post), they’re probably quite able to say ‘no’. It’s not a harsh trait, and it’s certainly not a negative one, but it’s an ability to see your own needs and goals as just as important as those of someone else. It’s an awareness that you can say  no, and that ‘I’m busy’ is not a lie, even if ‘busy’ = pyjamas and ice cream straight out of the tub with a spoon (some of us have to do this as part of the creative process. Honest.)

There is also often a ferocious defence of space, alongside time: an awareness that he or she needs certain conditions in which to write best, and a dedication to maintaining that.

Being away in Belfast for a couple of months certainly taught me that staying in can be very very restorative and actually a lot of fun, and that you’re not necessarily ‘missing out’ if you don’t attend absolutely every possible social engagement.

Perhaps this steely determination doesn’t come naturally to me. It might be hard work. But also, maybe sometimes now I’ll feel like it’s OK to say no once in a while, and that being ‘busy’ can mean anything; it’s not a lie.

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For now, I’m living alone in Edinburgh. There are a lot of observations to make about this style of living, the first of which is this:

I can’t seem to settle into one single task or pastime. When I’m watching a film, I wonder whether I should be reading a book instead. When I’m reading  a book, I realise I should maybe check my emails. When I’m checking my emails, watching a film seems like a good idea. It’s taken me all week to get two hours into Gone with the Wind. Seriously – I’m watching it in 20-minute chunks,and not on purpose.

This type of flightiness has always been part of me, but when I’m alone it’s magnified. I suppose this is because there’s no one else around to encourage me or motivate me to stick with just one thing. I’m sure I’ll calm down as time passes, and begin to just enjoy what I’m doing at the time.

Soon, I need to do some writing. And that’s one of the only things which can actually absorb me totally for hours.

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I’ve mentioned before that I sometimes have trouble concentrating on one thing for a long period of time. Or occasionally, as a product of the internet generation, not much longer than 30 seconds. A couple of weeks ago, I did genuinely wonder whether I had Adult ADHD.

While I’m on the internet (generally at work… oops), I often have 10 or more tabs open on my internet browser. Often, each of these tabs is writing-related article. I’ll read one paragraph, and then click on the next tab and read one paragraph of something else. Then I’ll check my emails, Facebook, Twitter, and move onto a new article. Then I go back to original and sometimes pick up where I left off, and other times have to start at the beginning again because I’ve forgotten what I read. (In fact, as soon as I finished typing this paragraph, I clicked on Twitter).

The problem isn’t as huge with writing or reading: I can read a book for hours without getting distracted, and I can spend 2-4 hours working on a piece of writing once I get into my stride.

But with writing on computer, the problem comes as soon as I get stuck. To write completely without distractions, I have to turn off the internet router, and even then I occasionally find my mouse trailing down the screen to open a browser window, before I realise what I’m doing.

Aside from a great need to implement some form of self-control, possibly reduce the amount of time I spend on the internet, thin out my GoogleReader feed, and get a grip, another method of tempering this insanity came from a friend of mine last night.

“I’m working on five or six different creative pieces at the moment,” he said. “I often have all of them – each document – open on the computer at once. That way, when I get stuck, I can just click on the next one and work on that for  a bit. Writing six things simultaneously!”

“Well, that sounds great!” I said, enthusiasm buoyed by many gin and tonics. “Because when I get a little bit stuck, I always end up clicking on something else. For that something else to be something productive would be great. I’ll definitely try that.”

And try it I will. But what does everyone else think? Is this a sensible idea? Obviously not necessary all the time, as when you’re immersed in something then distraction is not an issue. But as a technique when you’re at a tricky stage, having one or two stories open and in progress at once might not be a bad idea for someone who is as attention-deficient as a forgetful moth at a candle. Opinions?

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With every story I write, there is an inevitable period of utter misery involved.

I hammer out the first draft, cheerfully accepting that it’s going to be terrible, but trying to retain the essence of my original idea in the word jumble which I’m projectile-vomiting onto the computer screen. Ideally, after that, I leave the story alone for a couple of days or longer so I can step back from it.

Then the trouble starts.

Maybe I re-read the first draft, maybe I don’t quite get there. Either way, somewhere at this point, something switches in my brain.

I procrastinate endlessly, wasting entire evenings on the internet. Then I get angry with myself for wasting my time.

“How can I ever be a proper writer if I can’t sit down and actually write? I’m dooooommmmeeeeddd,” I wail, stamping around the house and slumping onto furniture with my head in my hands. Occasionally I slide to the floor and lie on my back, staring at the ceiling in the vain hope that this will give me a fresh perspective and the motivation to start again.

“I hate myself. I’m useless,” I howl. “I might as well just give up now.”

Those nights are lost causes.

I ride them through, teeth gritted against the misery. Then, suddenly, I break through the pain barrier.

I tentatively begin to restructure and edit the draft, word by word, line by line. I spend three hours on one paragraph, questioning every word and bending the spine of my thesaurus as I pore over the incomprehensible sections, desperately trying to find a better way of saying “all at once”. (NB. Still haven’t. Any suggestions before I post my final assignment tomorrow?)

I try to suspend an entire sentence in my mind, switching the word order over and over, mumbling it out loud to see which sounds best. I comment all over the draft and highlight awkward phrases. Then I go back to the beginning and address the comments one by one, deleting them when I think I’ve dealt with their issues.

I slowly forget how miserable I was a couple of days before, and I realise how much I love writing. I forget that I questioned myself, and forget that I considered giving up writing forever (due to being doomed, remember?).

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Isabella Black has just encompassed everything I meant to say in my post about procrastination worries a couple of days ago. I’m glad I’m not the only one worrying about this.

If any of you have any tips on concentration and staying focused, please let us know!

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It’s widely acknowledged that you’re at an advantage when studying if you have a comfortable and convenient area in which to work. With this in mind, my boyfriend, Edward, and I piled into a friend’s car last weekend and headed over to Ed’s parents’ house in order to pick up a secondhand desk which they didn’t want anymore. Ed’s starting an OU Course as well, so we needed a desk each.

One thing we didn’t think about properly was that I would need some way of sitting at my new desk. Luckily, it emerged that Ed’s parents also had an old desk chair that they were thinking of throwing away, as it is broken. Ever the eco-warriors (and loathe to see anything salvageable thrown into a landfill), we dutifully took the chair as well.

Unfortunately, the chair really is broken. It’s a very nice office chair in tattered black leather, with arms and padding. It’s also very comfortable to sit in, until you lean slightly to the left, at which point the old pivoting mechanism comes into play and you are tipped out of the chair sideways and onto the floor. I’m all for make-do-and-mend, but there’s only so long you can sit in that chair until one leg and the muscles in your back are screaming. You may as well be standing up, really.

Ed’s been lying underneath it with a screwdriver, trying to fix the mechanism, but to no avail. For a few hours last night its height was once again adjustable, so I could actually see the computer without sitting on 3 cushions. But when I sat on it again this morning, it let out a pitiful and gaseous sigh as it slid downwards, not to be raised again.

This is not an ideal situation, and one which my tenuous levels of concentration won’t enjoy once the course starts. In fact, any excuse to skive and I’ll be watching Coronation Street in my PJs, avoiding any OU work, if my past track record is anything to go by. This won’t do.

I need a new chair. I’ll be scouring the charity shops in my lunch hour. Wish me luck! x

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Applying Myself

I finished university in 2007. Throughout the three years of my course (Psychology), I struggled to concentrate on anything for a significant amount of time, and frequently found myself working through the night to hand in an essay due the next day. This was because I hadn’t planned my time adequately, and, to be quite honest, I would rather go out drinking with my friends than sit in the library for weeks in advance of a deadline. When I did sit down to work, I would find myself chatting with friends on the internet, refreshing Facebook or creating an online blog in which to procrastinate further.

I spent much of this procrastination time feeling guilty for my lack of application, and I wasted a lot of time.

Part of me thinks that this happened because I wasn’t entirely interested in my course, but another part of me strongly suspects that my lack of attention span and inability to concentrate unless a deadline is staring me in the face, is mainly down to the type of person I am. But this isn’t a good thing, and can surely be rectified, or at least battled through.

My mum once said about me, “if it’s not exciting, she’s not interested”, referring to the fact that I was taking my driving test later that week and hadn’t practised driving for a number of weeks. As usual, I was leaving things to the last minute. Unsurprisingly, I failed the driving test.

Now, I find myself about to start the A215 Creative Writing Course, and I really want to succeed. I want to finish writing up my assignments with enough time to edit and proofread, and to be able to prepare adequately for them in advance, so that the end product of each TMA is well thought-out and considered. I want each assignment to be a good quality, stand-alone piece in itself.

This will take hard work and a lot of motivation, but I trust that because I am now doing a course I am interested in, perhaps I will work harder than I have in the past. I really hope so.

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