The Attention Trap #IWSG #AmWriting

[I wrote this post as a member of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group where we share our worries and also offer support and encouragement to each other on the first Wednesday of every month. If you’re a writer like me and you’re looking for a bit of support, you can click the link and sign up here

Thank you to our awesome co-hosts this month:  Pat Garcia, Sylvia Ney, Liesbet @ Roaming About, Cathrina Constantine, and Natalie Aguirre!

 Check out our IWSG homepage for recent news and events.  And as always, thank you to founder Alex J. Cavaugh 🙂 


Henry Miller Quote on Attention

I stare at the computer screen at my desk in the office slouched over with a tight deadline on my school district’s magazine. I’m already behind. I was quarantined for COVID exposure just before the holiday when … an Administrator blows past my desk. “Hey, Erika, I’ve got an idea and I need your help.”

“Great! When do you need it by?” I ask.

The smile gets me every time. “Today. Before you leave would be great.”

At home, I’m working out on my new Spin bike, zoned into and pushing up a hill when I can’t shake a sudden idea about my recent story. I can’t focus. I need to write down some notes. Then again, my youngest child could cruise by, begging for immediate attention with her school issued device. Big Tears. Huge! I have to solve it. I want to solve it all at once. Wouldn’t it be nice to be an Octopus for a day?

In any case, my point is this: as I’ve aged through the years, my attention competes with multiple distractions no matter where I am. I’m in a constant battle to stay in the now, to stay on a topic or a single focused project. This dilemma may also be applied to reading great books. I do very much love reading. However, I admit it (raising one hand in the air while covering my eyes with the other). I do not always finish a book I start.

What could go so wrong I put down a book? A friend of mine is a diligent reader. She never puts a book down without finishing it. When I told her I have no problems doing so, it blew her away.

Then I saw this month’s question and it was perfect. “Being a writer, when you’re reading someone else’s work, what stops you from finishing a book/throws you out of the story/frustrates you the most about other people’s books?”

I think the biggest frustration I have when reading a new book, especially by a different author, is building the scene in my mind. To do so, I need a really great feel of the main character right from the start with a really great line showing me the struggle in the moment. If a writer throws me straight into the action, I’m fine with that. But I also need reflection. I need a sense of urgency. A reason to relate to the conflict with a balance of why I should care so much. Sometimes great books start off with this in the beginning, but something I’ve noticed that often happens in books is a fizzle effect through the middle. The first quarter of the book is great, maybe even a first chapter, and then the plot somehow falls apart. I don’t see a reason to turn the page with a muddling of too much detail and not enough conflict.

I have been reading a bit. I have a great example of a book where I’ve been drawn in and I can’t put it down. Try Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. WOW WOW Wow! The first four chapters are poetic, magical and make me care about the world.

What competes for your attention? Do find it hard to focus on one project at a time?

Happy New Year! May we all be filled with peace, hope and healthy vibes.

About Erika Beebe

Author, dreamer, and a momma to a couple of wonderful kids, I try to live life everyday in hope and inspire others along my way.

Posted on January 6, 2021, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. Want my cloning machine?
    I used to read every book to the end. Then I read Dan Brown’s The Terror and that cured me!

  2. I struggle with time for everything, too. Books have to draw me in from the first page, and get the conflict started.
    BTW, I’m doing IWSG over here:

  3. When you hit that really great book it puts the average ones in perspective.

    My life is one big distraction and constant chaos.

  4. I love characters. Make me care about them and I’m yours. Funny how you get ideas. Yesterday I was scrubbing toilets (LOL) and came up with some awesome ideas on a screenplay I’m working on. Happy New Year!

  5. Hi Erika, Happy New Year. I am currently struggling to find the time for everything. Need to let go off a few things from now onwards, else it will be a struggle to find the writing time.

  6. Characters are key, and I hear what you’re saying about those “saggy middles.” I have a hard time not finishing a book I start, but as you’ve said, there’s just not enough time to spend on a story that’s boring you. Thanks for the book suggestion. I always have my list next to my computer, and I note down books I want to investigate. Happy 2021!

  7. I’m a big fan of scene and sequel. One without the other is a very dull read. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  8. Interesting point about the setting, that you have to be able to see it. Absolutely true!

  9. When I get super busy, I have to focus on the essentials, like work and family, and have to let things like writing go. I’ll cover my eyes too and admit that I don’t always finish books that don’t draw me in anymore.

  10. I learned a long time ago not to waste my time trying to muddle through a book I am not enjoying. Kind of like making yourself eat broccoli when you hate it. Now, I don’t eat frozen broccoli. Huh…even as a retired woman, before COVID I got distracted. Not by children nor grandchildren or any boss interrupting my work. Life is one distraction after another whatever age you are. When COVID first hit I felt scattered and could not focus at all. But, now, the masks, the distancing, the fear are the way of life. It will get better, but no matter what, I expect interruptions. And, honestly, some are very pleasant.

  11. I think the ‘fizzling’ effect in the middle of many books is caused by the writers choosing a wrong length for their stories. They strive to produce a novel, while the plot fits better to the novella format, or maybe even a short story. So the authors pad the text with lots of unnecessary words, most of them in the middle.
    I often DNF books I dislike after the first couple chapters. I don’t think there is anything shameful in that.

    • I agree Olga. I’ve also wondered if some of the published authors have too many projects going at once. I’ve tried to read a few books lately of authors I once loved and the latest release have made me sorry I did 🙂

  12. Jennifer Lee Hawes

    I’m blessed to get to read all by myself. No distractions. But it still means the book better impress me!!

  13. Oh, I remember the years of having the children at home and needy. I did most of my writing late at night and still do, but I never had enough sleep. I admire your work ethic and energy. Thanks for the book recommendation.

  14. Great characters and building scenes are very important.
    Hope you have a wonderful-writing year.

  15. Steven Arellano Rose

    I get bored easily and actually lose focus when I’m working only on one project for a long period of time. So I have to divide my day or at least week into several projects to give myself some variety.

  16. So many things do compete for our attention. In many ways, it makes it harder for writers today, because there are many entertainment options readers could pick instead of finishing your book. (Plus, there are those who won’t read anything that isn’t getting turned into a movie or tv series. Uggh.) So yup, it’s important to keep the reader’s eyes locked to the page.

    I hope your New Year is going well. I only read and reviewed 23 books last year, but my goal for this year is 30. My other goals are to publish another fiction book in 2021, do the Blogging from A to Z Challenge in April, and increase the number of authors helped by Operation Awesome.

  17. Distractions are everywhere. I seldom go anywhere (even when exercising or walking) without something to jot down notes…

  18. helenmatheyhornbooks

    I usually start a book with an idea or scene in my head, but yes, it is easy to get ‘mushy’ in the middle when the great beginning is past and the road ahead is not yet clear. 🙂

  19. I hear you on attention traps. I edit fiction and I’m always cutting out saggy middles and tightening prose.

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