Nina commented: I have a question to our Word Wenches. What do you do to keep yourself "in the moment of a book/chapter/scene when life keeps yanking you out? For me, something a simple as a potty break can yank me so far out of a scene I have to re-read the chapter just to "get in the mood" again. So, what do you do to “stay in the moment” when life interrupts?
Hey, if you ever figure this out, let me know! Seriously, this is almost a daily issue for me, as I’ve written most of my books surrounded by kids, a dog, and the usual (and unusual) family and household matters ready to throw me off track. I once wrote an intense love scene late at night on deadline, while seven boys on a sleepover played video games and made rude and rather creative noises in the very next room. And I’m distractible by nature, so focusing on the work despite all–and that night was a challenge!–can be a real issue.
I’ve learned to use crutches, aids, and techniques. If I need to get up and move (this is a constant, I can’t sit still for long), or if I want a fresh cup of tea but have to run the gauntlet of Mom-requests, doorbell, phone, mail, UPS, dog-goes-outside, dog-goes-back-inside, I try to make myself keep thinking about that story thread if I don’t want to lose it. I’ll jot something down on a piece of paper while I’m waiting for the tea to boil. Or I’ll mutter it to myself, over and over.
Once I’m back at work, I’ll retrace what I wrote last to get back into the flow of it again. Retracing is a great and very simple tool — one step back for two solid steps forward, if all goes well.
Music also helps me to create a focusing bubble. This doesn’t work for everyone, I know, but it’s a must for me. It helps my brain to synchronize again after interruption, and helps me get back into full focus mode. I’ve gotten very interested in the last few years in right brain/left brain functions, and in music that enhances and organizes. This seems to help ma wee brain. Also, I’ve learned some physical exercises that help as well.
I also use journals. I keep one notebook going, and sometimes finish two or three, for each book I write. I like a certain type of spiral notebook, a size and design that I like. These pages are not for pouring out my personal angst, that’s a waste of time and ink for me, cuz in these pages I want to focus on the book and I want to make some progress — even if the only progess I make in a day is a great entry in that notebook. I talk to myself about the story–anything and everything to do with the book in progress. Ideas, thoughts, plot points, character notes, name lists, research tidbits, anything I don’t want to forget or lose track of entirely. There’s a lot of chitchat, mutter, flotsam and jetsam running through my head, both book and non-book, and I try to corral it here. This works great when I can find the notebook, haha, but no system is perfect.
Anyway, I find that my messy, scribbledy, beloved journals really keep me on track, as does music (instrumental, never with words! not for working!). If all else fails, walking around muttering to myself usually does the trick (and clears the adolescent males out of the house so I can be alone again to think.)
Oh yeah, and sticky notes. Lots and lots of sticky notes…
Ah, sweet focus: Sir Walter Scott’s peaceful study at Abbotsford. Took this myself, and was alone here, blissfully alone, for about 15 minutes before my friends came looking for me. Heaven!