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Five steps to creating single-point focus

My husband and I were strolling along our city’s boardwalk this weekend when a bald eagle swooped overhead and landed on the mudflats to fish. We stopped to admire him—so silent and still as he hunted bullheads in a nearby stream. Soon, a small black bird, maybe a young crow or raven, began dive-bombing the eagle—a constant back and forth motion that reminded me of a giant pendulum.

Neither bird gave up. The black bird continued its assault. The eagle ignored the little bird and stared fixedly into the stream. We were amazed at their determination.

As a writer, this is what I’m always looking for—that single-point focus. My world has too many distractions—e-mail, phones, social media, business, housework. I find it too easy to get off track, and far too difficult to find my way back.

Watching the eagle reminded me of a segment I watched recently on Sunday Morning about writer Dean Koontz. An incredibly successful writer who’s built a beautiful custom home in California, he composes his novels on an 18-year-old word processor. And—get this—he doesn’t “do” e-mail. If he needs to respond to an e-mail, he types up his response, saves it to a floppy disc (I didn’t know they still existed) and hands it off to his assistant. Wow.

At first I thought he was just crazy—maybe some of his more disturbed characters had worn off on him. Seriously, here’s a writer who can afford state-of-the-art computers and a world of instant information at the tip of his prolific fingers.

But as I stared out at the lone eagle completely focused on his goal, I could understand Koontz’s desire to keep it simple, to limit his distractions. Considering that he’s written over a zillion books in about a million different languages, I’d say his system works.

So what can the rest of us — who’ve already been clutched in the talons of the computer/email/social media craze – do?  How can we return to a simpler life where all we need to focus on is the blank page before us?  Here are five tips to get you started:

  1. Write down an action plan that is doable. Written goals work. I created a table in Word (Excel is great too) that lists each of my writing projects and breaks them down into weekly and daily action steps. For example, my daily word count goal for my fantasy novel is 1,500 words. I’ve also set aside one hour a day for research or reading. For me, this is doable considering all my other projects. Post your list where you can see it every day. Check off items when completed.
  2. Start a writing routine and stick to it. Look at your daily and weekly schedule. When do you have time to write? Mornings? Before bed? During lunch? It only takes a few weeks of repeated action to develop a new habit that can last a lifetime. The key is to do something daily. Even if it’s only a 20-minute timed write. Don’t save it up for weekends—something will always get in your way. Daily writing is the key to success.
  3. Create writing rituals. When I get desperate for focused writing time, I wear my big Bose earphones. I don’t plug them in—just the act of wearing them seems to act like blinders and keep me focused. I may look funny, but I don’t care. Artists are eccentric. Get used to it.
  4. Change your place. If the headphones don’t work, I’ll change my location to get away from the busyness of my office and/or home. I’ve created five or six little spaces around my home and garden where I can sit and write. If that doesn’t work, a trip to the local coffee shop is in order.
  5. Set a timer. I set my timer for 20 to 30 minutes and give myself a specific job to be completed during that time—write a blog post or first draft of a poem, work on a scene, clean off my writing desk. The timer helps me focus.

Follow these tips and soon you’ll cultivate that single-point focus that will serve you well in all aspects of your life. Think of the eagle—a mythological bird that even has its own constellation. Honor the eagle within yourself. Stay focused on your writing goals. Allow yourself to soar.

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