Thursday, March 21, 2013

Focus

One reason to plan your writing is to focus your attention. If you give yourself, say, eight hours in a particular week to write, and you conceive of these eight hours as opportunities to write sixteen particular paragraphs, then you can shut out a lot of distractions and concern while writing each of them. Also, since you'll be making sixteen definite attempts to contribute to your writing projects, you can make each attempt in a careful, deliberate way. The trick is to remember that for the 27-minutes that you are working on it, that paragraph is all you need to accomplish.

It helps to choose the paragraph wisely. Always choose it the day before and always choose one that you are confident you know enough to write. (If you're writing for one hour, choose two paragraphs. If you're writing for two hours, choose four paragraphs.) Don't set yourself a task that you aren't ready for. Pick something you know rather well, and pick it in the spirit of "What's the next paragraph I both can and should write?" Once you've decided that you will write, you may as well choose, from among all the things you haven't yet written down, something that you know.

That is, don't set yourself a vague writing task that might require knowledge you don't yet have, or only just barely understand. Write clearly about ideas you are confident about. When the writing session begins remember that you will be working on this paragraph for only the next twenty-seven minutes. There's nothing else that you should be doing in that time. This will help you focus.

3 comments:

Константин Кокарев said...

Sometimes it's almost impossible to understand weather you understand your topic or not. In many cases I had found that I don't understand all what I need clearly only in the process. How to plan taking into account this uncertainty?

Jonathan said...

I was thinking this morning that my process is way more fluid than what you describe.

But then I realized the most productive thing was to work on one particular paragraph, and found that, precisely because paragraphs often split and merge on me, it is useful to isolate one and finish it off.

Thomas said...

@Константин Кокарев: My method doesn't really have a way of dealing with this uncertainty. It simply makes it very explicit. If you work according to my method for, say, eight weeks, you'll spend 40 days going to bed with a clear idea of what you're going to try to write in the morning. That idea may turn out to be wrong sometimes. But with time (with practice) you'll get better and better at selecting those parts of your topic that you do understand well enough to write from day to day, one paragraph at a time.

@Jonathan: The process I describe is of course an idealization. Every real process (including my own) will be much more fluid. I'm grateful for your point about splitting and merging, which I'll have to take up in a later post. After all, you might also spend 27-minutes merging two paragraphs. Or 27-minutes splitting one paragraph into two. As long as the task is focused, your time is well spent.