The Zen of Focus

…and hanging out with James Patterson

Okay, I’m not really hanging out with James Patterson, but after re-watching his Masterclass series, I feel like I am.  Of his seventy-plus bestsellers, I’ve only read one. It didn’t exactly make me rush to my library or bookstore to devour the rest of the series the way my introduction to Lawrence Sanders’ McNally books did (still my favorite series; not sure why) but I want to like them because, as previously stated, I really like James Patterson. I’ll even go so far as to admit (again) that I have a bit of a crush on him. His positive attitude and advice is really helping me stay on track as I write my second novel (the first) .  Or is it?

My new novel, coming out this summer.

Whether it’s called writers block or resistance, or distraction, anything that takes away my focus is an impediment to me getting the job done, including watching Patterson’s videos when I should be writing. In our ADD world of simultaneous digital platform surfing, it seems like the ability to truly focus is reserved for the Zen masters.  With so many delicious distractions surrounding me, I’ve had to develop some simple strategies.

I use a timer method (someone came up similar idea and makes a fortune selling tomato egg timers, but whatever). I set my phone timer for one hour intervals, sometimes two, and during that time I can only do two things: I can stare at the blank page and think and/or I can write. That’s it. I try not to look at the timer, knowing the alarm will sound eventually, and most of the time I’m surprised how fast the hour flies by. Sometimes I’ll play alpha music through my headphones if my environment is particularly noisy, but quiet works best for me.

On writing days, I can set the timer several times throughout the day, but usually for only one hour at a time. When the timer sounds, I take a break and reward myself with a game of online chess , Twitter, the Daily Mail, or a  James Patterson video. Then I set the timer again and get back in the game. A lot of times I don’t even want to take a break and I just keep on writing. That’s when I know I’m in the zone, which in the desired state for ultimate creativity. A lot has been written about this flow state. In my experience, it’s not something you can make happen, but if you create the right conditions, it will happen more often.

Stephen King asserts: You must not come lightly to the blank page.

The War of Art says: The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.

James Patterson: Don’t try to write and play a game on your phone at the same time.

In other words, don’t half-ass it.

I’ve written five hundred words in one hour. My timer is about to go off. Back to James. I do love his sparkly eyes and that laugh of his…

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