How To Maintain a Writing Focus

I am facing a relatively new challenge in my writing these days.

Usually, challenges to my writing focus more around how to delve into my writing, or how to go back and forth between the highly introverted self that is able to dig deep and write from that deep place, and the highly functional, friendly, almost-extroverted “public” self that gives lectures, plans and hosts events, leads faith and film dialogues, makes “cold calls” on the phone, etc. While I enjoy both “modes” of being, they represent extremes for me. Going back and forth between these extremes–especially when I’m writing deeply, or doing a series of workshops/lectures, is actually painful and disorienting for me. This continues to be my greatest challenge in writing–perhaps in part because I’m juggling so many deadlines as well.

This week, I have transitioned from almost two weeks of nonstop events where I’ve been my more “public” self, to a place where my introverted self can safely write more deeply–hopefully for the next two weeks. (My hope/goal this week is to write the second draft of two and half chapters of my newest book on the Eucharist.) I do not often have the opportunity to “delve deep into writing” in my day-to-day life, but the topic of my book–adoration of the Eucharist–requires a more introspective mode to write. I have to admit, I’m quite excited because out of the two “modes” of being, this mode is definitely my favorite. But two anxieties continue to hover in the back of my mind:

1. That I have nothing of value to say 

2. That I won’t be able to maintain focus and write; that my energy and focus for these two weeks, which requires intensity, depth, and long hours, are going to wear out in less than a couple of days 

Praying for the gifts of the Holy Spirit for writers: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, and knowledge.

Praying for the gifts of the Holy Spirit for writers: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, and knowledge.

The first worry is always present, something that I suspect most writers just learn to live with, and I’ve blogged about it a lot.  But the second is a relatively new concern, since I’m only used to one-day intensive writing days, or perhaps a two-day stretch. I’m thinking “onscreen” here: how can I maintain both focus and stamina in the midst of my everyday life? 

Perhaps I need to re-visit previous blog and journal entries about nurturing my writing self and the writing life. Here are a couple of things I will try…and I’ll post how it goes for me. 

1) Less is more. 

I’ve set my goal for this week, and now I need to forget it. Taking it slow has always worked for me. Even to the point that sometimes, I “waste” my first writing session by just journaling, unwinding, brainstorming. The problem is that I like to feel in control and I like to evaluate my progress constantly. But that’s not really writing, which is about listening, surrendering in the moment, and discovery. Pushing myself when I’m writing is like driving while looking behind me–not only will I be distracted, but I’ll likely crash into something.

2) Take care of myself. 

This is a requirement for most of the time that I’m writing. Writing this intensively requires that I be relatively serene, rested, nurtured, exercised–perhaps even more than usual. When I make a retreat, the first thing I make sure to do is to rest. (I even try to arrive for retreat well-rested, but if not, then I make sure to get extra sleep those first couple of days.)

3) Immersion.  

Holding my writing project gently in mind, allowing it to be always present, always “on my mind” is a great way to keep focus and to allow my subconscious thoughts and feelings about the writing to emerge. Even when I’m not writing, I’m writing. Of course, I will take breaks during the week, such as emptying my mind before I go to bed, or in chapel, or during short snacks. But in those in-between moments of my day, whether I’m stuck in traffic, taking a walk, or waiting for water to boil, I can return to this project gently.

The key for me here is to be “gentle.” What is the writing saying to me? Is the Holy Spirit inspiring me? How do I feel about the paragraph I’m working on, or the focus of this chapter?

4) Trust. 

To combat the daily, hourly, or momentary doubts that always arise during my writing, I will make a simple act of trust in the Lord. The main reason that I write is because I feel that the Lord has called me to–and in this case, I feel that the Lord has invited me to write this particular book. Never mind that I don’t feel ready, or worthy, or that I’m writing about one of the greatest mysteries of faith, a Mystery that theologians and saints have struggled to express.

My act of trust will be spontaneous, but I suspect will be something like: Jesus Master, I trust in You, in Your call to write, in Your love for me and Your presence with me. Hold me in Your Heart and inspire my every keystroke and word. I trust in You, Sacred Heart of my Master! 

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