Xeno Hemlock


Confessions of a Wandering Writer

  Behind my camel...  by Rob Flickenger

Behind my camel... by Rob Flickenger

(or How I Deal with my Short Attention Span a.k.a. Unfocused Mind)

As I scoured the Internet on writing advice and tips, one of the common and best advice I came across with was to turn off all distractions. Wholeheartedly, I agree with that. Usually, most writers' problems begin in facing the blank page. Once you get the momentum going, it will be difficult to stop. To achieve that momentum, total focus is required. There's no room for distractions.

With my short-attention span that predates the Internet era, sometimes I go against the grain and indulge in distractions I label as my “commercial breaks”. They will not induce writer block nor will take me away from the task completely. Instead, I find that they help by providing a short break to generate fresh thoughts and ideas, and quickly review what I have written so far to evaluate if I am still on track.

What are these “commercial breaks”?

  1. Look into the mirror - Being immersed in the process of writing sometimes puts hygiene at the lower half of the priority list. There's a level of grime on skin that's acceptable and I have to check that by looking at myself in the mirror. Totally narcissistic you may tell me, but hey mileages may vary. When I see that I am quickly turning into a walking dead then that's the cue to hit the showers. Taking a shower refreshes my mind so when I get back in front of my work-in-progress piece, there are now ingredients to add to what's already cooking.

  2. Browse Twitter - Dubbed as the best social network by yours truly, the fast pacing of my Twitter timeline does not kill my writing engine at all. Both relevant and irrelevant information goes from the Twitter stream to my brain, oiling my mental parts. Sometimes, the unexpected humor from Twitter wakes up whatever area of my brain is snoozing and I find myself speeding away with the keyboard afterwards.

  3. Read a blog or an article - Writing, and writing, and writing can be exhausting and draining. Words are squeezed out from you. You cannot help but to feel empty handed at times. To refuel that empty tank, reading a short article or any written piece can be beneficial. Reading restores the balance lost from a lengthy writing. Together, writing and reading are the push and pull of our mental muscle. This does not only apply short term but also for the long term as well. 

  4. Play with my cats - For a purely subjective reason, petting, cuddling, or baby-talking my two cats clears my mind of invisible clutter, detoxifies my writing spirit, and unloads any stress accumulated from writing. The only downside with this is once I pet my cats, they will never leave my lap or even sit on the desk where my mouse is. If you own a cat, imitate with caution. 

  5. Play a quick game - A quick round of Robocop, Sims Freeplay, or Smash Hit is my caffeine to give that extra buzz when arriving at a dead end. It's one of the reasons why I like downloading iOS games. Most of them can be played for a short period of time, then allows you to step away from them, and resume right back to where you left off with ease. When I'm really feeling stuck and none of the previous items is helpful, then playing a minute or two of my favorite games can pull me out of the pit I'm trapped in. It's also a form of instant small reward. 

  6. Get moving - While writing this piece, I took a break and completed a 40-minute bodyweight workout in the confines of my room. After that, I went back to finishing this. Sitting for a long period can put me to a sleepy state. This happens to me at work, at meetings, or even when commuting. Getting up and doing a physical activity can prevent that and put the body to an alert state. It doesn't have to be a strenuous task. You can walk, do jumping jacks, dance, or whatever physical activity suits you. 

It doesn't always have to be this way. There are times I can get into overdrive without any problem, spending hours writing without stopping. Sometimes, things are the opposite. My mind is in a struggle to concentrate but I know I must write, because it is the duty of a writer to write. We discover ways to aid us in hours of need. Here I gathered some, to share with you for your assessment or your experimentation. What do you do? Do you get commercial breaks too?

Featured image: Kellar by Strobridge & Co. Lith.,, ,from the Library of Congress, and cropping by trialsanderrors