Monday, March 3, 2014

Frustration and Fruition: A Study in Focus (Ooh, look! A Chicken!)

As a struggling author, I often wonder why I continue writing. I am constantly starting things and not finishing them. My work always starts off great then I usually lose interest or get frustrated, resulting in my laptop's Document folder becoming a graveyard of unfinished possibilities.

One of the biggest sources of personal pride for me is my finished novel, Out of the Eater. It took me five years to complete (I started it in high school as a junior and didn't complete it until I was a sophomore in college), but it's finished and now on it's way to being published. Every time I struggle with a project, I try and be patient with myself and remind myself that I have written a book. Sometimes that helps, other times it doesn't.

I am one of  those irritatingly impatient people. If something doesn't get done by a deadline I have set for myself, I just want to drag the file of the text I'm working on over to the Trash and be done with it forever. My therapist says I may have adult ADD, but I think I just need to apply myself.

In order to address these frustrations, I've looked up ways to help me focus. I've found everything from taking a Facebook break every twenty minutes, to doing a chore when your brain is starting to shut down (or in my case, bubble over from overload!). As I scoured the internet for studies (old habits from an ex-Psych major) and blog suggestions, I remembered an old junior high school science of mine, Mr. S. Mr. S was a very eccentric man, but also very imaginative and supportive of his students. He was the head of D:I at our school, and even defended my group from a crazed mother when she visited us after we kicked her daughter out for not pulling her weight. He made us listen to "Ring of Fire" by Johnny Cash over and over again (I can't remember why was relevant at the time), and did a fill-in-the-blank bonus section on every test which were actually lyrics to "Galaxy Song" by Monty Python.

Yup, he was pretty awesome. Anyways, the reason I thought of Mr. S was because he required that we find a trinket of some sort (could be a rock, could be a tiny action figure) that we could study and take tests with. He actually docked points if you didn't have your trinket on your desk on test day!

This caused me to think: If contact with a physical object could help you focus, could a virtual item help with focusing as well?

I decided to test the theory with two different ideas. First with a photo, then with a song.

When choosing a photo, I tried to think of something that I would enjoy looking at, but that wouldn't be distracting. What made me relaxed? What colors were easy on the eyes? I decided on this photo of Benedict Cumberbatch in period dress:

Nice, right? Those who know me are rolling their eyes...bear with me, folks. The more I looked at the image, the more I realized how much I wanted it to come to fruition (Benedict, a non-believing man that I love and respect is preaching the Word to a group of people)...that was why I liked it so much. Also, the scenery and photo composition is absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, despite the photo's aesthetic and what it represented to me, I quickly realized that the image was too large to focus on...too many details. So I cropped it to look like this:

Not only did this version help me see the details of Bene's costume, but it was easier to take in and have as a side-by-side with Word, like so:

I tried writing with this method for a few weeks, and it was very helpful. But then I realized I had been listening to music the whole time, and was kind of bummed because I realized that my "data" was now poisoned and would have to throw it out. Had I been thinking, I would've only used the music.

A little disappointed but not put off, I started testing the music theory.

I started by building a playlist of no more than 10 songs. They didn't have a central theme other than the fact that I enjoyed them. There fast and slow songs, and they branched every genre from club/dance music to jazz and acoustic tunes.

FINDING: It didn't work. I was too distracted by the changing tempos and feels that the music selections conveyed. So, in a last ditch effort, I tried listening the same track over, and over, and over again. I attached a different song to each project I was working on, and tried my darnedest not to stray from them.


And the best thing about it was, some of them were the most random songs; they were completely unrelated to the feel of the work (most of the time), and I was so productive! I was writing and editing 6 or 7 pages a day, whereas prior to the experiment I would complete 2 or 3 at best! It wasn't a big change, but it was a significant one!

Just for kicks and giggles, here are a few of the songs I've used:

1. "Evacuate the Dance Floor" by Cascada (WARNING: Some inappropriate lyrics present):

2. "Young and Beautiful" Cover by Postmodern Jukebox:

3. "Sweet Pea" by Amos Lee:

4. "The Growl" by Conway:

Do you have any techniques that you swear by to help you focus? Let me know by putting them in a comment! Have a great day, guys!

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