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
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.