The Struggle of Staying Focused
When I was a kid, I had a stack of ten books on my bedside table. Each night I would rotate through the pile. I'd read a chapter of this one, and then go to sleep. The next night I'd move that book down to the bottom and read a chapter of whatever book was on top, and again and again and again until eventually I finished one or all of those books and replaced them with new books.
Now as an adult and a writer, my brain wants to do the same thing. And, in fact, I may have trained myself to succeed at that from a young age.
One of my close friends asked me the other day, "How do you keep all the stories straight? You watch TV shows passionately, you write novels, you write fanfiction with me, you're reading at least three books . . . How do you not get confused?"
All I could do was shrug and say I'd done it my whole life.
But now I'm not so sure if that's a good thing. On the one hand, it keeps me going back to something that's a little more slow moving until I finish it. That is good, if my goal needs to be to finish it. That's how I got through college with all the reading I had to do.
On the other hand, mixing that with my cell phone in an age where Twitter's popularity is picking up again and all I need to do in order to get new content is refresh the page, my attention span before I switch to something else is shrinking.
I find that I hit mental fatigue much faster, something I'm not sure I want to keep happening.
You may recognize this as a problem for you as well if you find you get bored of reading after one page, can't make it through an entire TV episode without checking your social media via your phone, are switching back and forth between text messaging and this blog post, or find you haven't finished reading a book in months.
With the sheer amount of media we have available to us, it is vital to check in with ourselves and make sure we're caring for ourselves the way we need to.
As part of my job, I must be able to sit down and read entire books. Granted, if I find I can't finish a book, I don't have to take on the author and represent them. But, if my inability to read through an entire book is determined by my short attention span rather than the quality of the author's writing, they're not getting a fair chance.
Even more, if I can't keep myself going through my own novel as I edit it, how can I ever expect anyone else to read it all the way through?
Now, this second example has a few caveats:
How long have I been working on it?
What kind of work have I been doing on it?
Have I given myself adequate time to recharge and rest?
Am I simply fatigued from reading the same story over and over and over because that's what I have to do in editing? (I'd get tired of any book if I had to read it five times before it was as good as I wanted it to be.)
But it's the times when I know I'm not burnt out on writing but rather just burnt out in general that those new plots look awfully shiny, and I feel a bit like this:
Somehow, eventually, I will have to get that project to move, even if I want to be riding the racehorse toward the easier gratification.
Because if there is anything I learned about myself and my writing process in 2019, it's that if I'm willing to love that donkey and teach that donkey how it should behave, it will be one of the best donkey's I've ever trained.
My books are better when I go through four or five times after my first draft is done to flesh out the places where I was lazy before. I'm holding myself to a higher standard, and my books will be much better for it.
But boy is it hard work.
It's so incredibly hard to read my own words, acknowledge that I was lazy, and then make the effort to not be lazy anymore right there in that spot with those words. Because if I don't fix it right there right then, it was never going to be fixed.
And mostly, it comes down to focus, and retraining myself to allow the time necessary to focus where I need to focus and put in the work to do what I need to do.
J. J. Hanna graduated from Taylor University with a degree in Professional Writing. She's currently working with literary agent Cyle Young as a literary scout. In what free time she has left, she also works as a freelance writer and editor. To hire her for editing, writing, speaking, or consulting, see the services tab. She can often be found cuddling with a cat, reading the latest suspense novel, or filming YouTube videos about the publishing industry.
Follow her on most social media @authorjjhanna