Writing is the interesting process of getting the unconscious and the creative parts of your brain to do work. This often involves silencing the (also essential) editing part of the brain until the words are on paper, and yet making this section you’re writing fit nicely with the rest of the story, and making it make sense. In other words, writing well is a lot like riding a unicycle while spinning plates above your head and singing the national anthem. It takes a great deal of focus.
One of the best tools for my creative productivity lately has been what’s called word sprints, or word wars, if you prefer the term. You set the timer with a group of friends and all write like crazy until time is called. When I started, I did fifteen minute sprints. Now I do forty-five. And the idea applies nicely to revision too.
The reason word sprints work is because they train you to do one thing, to stay focused on one thing, until time is called. No Facebook, no Twitter, no email, nothing but the words on the page and (possibly) music playing in the background. The human brain can do eight things at once (ask any mother of toddlers), but it can’t do eight things well. In fact, it can’t do two complex things well, not at the same time. Trying to do social interaction at the same time you’re writing accomplishes neither and just derails your train of thought.
So, this morning, I was feeling tired and unfocused. So I “took a break” halfway through my usual revision time and checked my email. Three times in an hour. I did, indeed, have some important email, including one from my editor. But the process of checking the email, reading it, and thinking about it completely derailed my writing brain. And every time, I had to struggle to get back into the work. What I should have done instead is push through the tiredness, change music to something more energetic, or go for a walk to get my brain in gear. Something to add to my focus instead of taking it away.
Your brain is your most valuable writing tool. Treat it with the care – and the focus – it deserves.