Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Challenge to Live With

I wanted to call it a handicap or a disability but that seemed rather insensitive to those who suffer from real physical and mental challenges. While not critical to life or limb, it’s still a serious issue for those of us affected. It’s often ignored or simply categorized as being lazy. Nothing could be further from the truth. Undiagnosed and untreated, it can be a real detriment to success.

I’m talking about the inability to concentrate or focus on any one subject for any appreciable amount of time. It borders on ‘attention deficit’ but not to the degree that it could be considered an illness or a disease. But for me and others, and coupled with a somewhat addictive personality, I find it very difficult to focus on anything for any length of time. And I always have.

In my ‘How to Get Started Writing’ workshop I teach participants that the key to success in writing is to write. ‘Tush in the chair’ and go to work. But one familiar refrain is always: ‘How does one stay focused for any length of time?’ For me the answer turns out to be short concentrations of time spent on the subject matter and then purposeful separation to recharge my creative batteries.

It was almost by accident that I discovered early in my television / video production career that a simple walk down the hall or escape to the coffee pot gave my mind that much needed respite to get uncluttered and recharged for the next task on hand. Unlike a lot of my colleagues who could sit at their desk for hours at a time, my seat-warming periods were brief at best. So, the answer for me was to break up that concentration with scheduled breaks and planned distractions.

When I finally shifted my energies to writing fulltime in lieu of retirement I knew I faced a daunting task ahead. How does one write a novel, play or screenplay when the very act of writing demands focused, concentrated time-on-task? The answer came to me very quickly, that is, to do what I’ve always done all my life. Multiple tasks piled up upon one another.

For as far back as I can remember, I have always had multiple projects, assignments, tasks, duties or jobs going on at the same time. Perhaps instinctively or more likely as an act of survival I was always working ‘at something.’ My Mother, ever the silent teacher by example, did that by working all day and ‘doing something’ every night. Sitting in front of the boob tube after school wasn’t allowed in our household.

I tell my students they must find their own ‘space’ and ‘time.’ By that I mean they should find a spot where they can do nothing but concentrate on their art. Then they should decide what time of day they are the most creative. It varies with every individual and no one time or space fits everyone.

I discovered the secret to organizing my own ideas a long time ago. When I began writing I had an office in the basement of my home. At the time, I was working fulltime for public television, running my own video production/distribution business, managing two apartment buildings, overseeing other investments and trying to be an involved father. That office was where I conducted my regular business.

But right around the corner in the laundry room was a countertop. That was my writing area and all I did there was write…and nothing else.

Finding the right time to write is the second critical component here. Whenever is the best time for you (and not someone else) is the key question. My most creative time is early in the morning or at least by 9:00 am after my quiet reading time and breakfast. When I was still working fulltime it was whenever I could find the time. The best time and place and artistic style is out there for anyone to find. It is a journey inside your head to find what best suits your lifestyle.

If you can set up a time schedule, a routine, that’s great. But just having a place to work will help adjust your mind to your art. It can be an office, the kitchen table, some bedroom space, garage space or even a closet if it’s big enough. Coupled with time and space and, for me, a scheduled break in the action this formula helps keep me focused and productive.

When Sharon decided to focus on her art, our kitchen table became her new tablet of choice. That area and the garage was where she could sit or stand and do what she does best; being creative. It limited a lot of dinner parties but sure helped her create some nice pieces of art.

One of the most satisfying aspects of teaching my workshop is having participants share their personal stories and antidotes about the challenges of writing. The main message I try to get across is that not one approach fits all of us at any stage in our lives.

Whatever your personal challenges, learn to deal with them as best you can. Find the avenue most suited to your personality. Find what works best for you. Find that spot where you are comfortable with yourself and your selected process. Proceed with the task ahead in a manner that best satisfies your need to produce and be satisfied with the outcome. In other words, be yourself and live your life to the fullest.

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