Circling Around, Settling Down

circling around, with clouds

Years ago, I watched a master stone mason build a fireplace mantel and surround. He was a family friend, a warm, gracious man. But that morning, he said a brief hello and no more. The design had been agreed on, the materials and tools were ready.  He set to work immediately, assisted by my uncle. Within a few hours, the beautifully crafted design came into being and the woodstove could be set in place. I learned something about focus that day.

I think too of Liz Rusch, a talented, prolific children’s writer in my Portland critique group, Viva Scriva. At writing retreats, Liz was probably the first one down in the mornings. She grabbed a quick breakfast, sat down, and began working in a focused way for two or three hours before going on her pre-lunch run.

I wished I could be like her. Instead, I’d get a second serving of Baked Oatmeal… Chat with other Scrivas as they emerged into the common area to eat… Journal before writing… My project finally had me in its arms just about the time Liz left hers to go run.

But then I think of a former boss, entertainment lawyer Irwin Spiegel Osher. He’d represented many famous musicians and artists through the years, including Sonny and Cher, back in the day, and Neil Young, when I worked for him. No sloucher he. Still, as I came to know him, I learned some things about his working style in these later years of his career. Sometimes he’d immediately do what he’d planned for himself. Other times, he’d first circle around.

One mid-afternoon, my mom called. By now I knew a bit about Irwin’s rhythms, and told her, “Soon, he’s either going to settle down and finally write his brief, or he’s going to leave and maybe send me home early.”

He settled down. I carried on with whatever I was doing.  A couple of hours later, Irwin emerged with a sheaf of pages for me to type up in the morning.

So not everyone is the same. Oftentimes I, too, need to circle around before settling down to work.

Which is your style? Have you made peace with it? And what helps you launch into your work right away? Or to settle into your work sooner, after first circling around it?


Timers to Boost Your Focus


It’s always a treat to get together with Stefania, my beautiful, interesting, big-hearted friend who founded the Blue Heron Foundation to help Romania’s abandoned children (and now those of the Republic of Moldova) attend university.

Our conversation always ranges widely across our full lives, including our creative endeavors. Months ago, stuck, I mentioned having a hard time either finding the time for, or getting back into, writing flow. Stefania encouraged me with a strategy she was using to translate her book into English: “Take just 30 minutes to work on it daily. 30 minutes on the clock.” Of course. 30 minutes is short enough so that it’s not overwhelming, and almost anyone can find that much time. Yet 30 minutes daily, over time, will advance many an important project.

Though I could have used my phone or a clock, sometime around then, I saw a mention of Focus Booster. The app has fancy bells and whistles to help with productivity tracking. For a monthly fee, you can create labels, clients, timesheets, reports. Or you could download the Starter plan for free.

I chose the latter, and used Focus Booster’s default on-screen countdown timer: 25 minutes on, 5 minutes off, with a ticking sound that starts each session (you could choose to have ticking throughout, and adjust the length of the working/break sessions, etc., even with the Starter plan). When I’d see the green background that starts off each session (the colors change as time ticks away), my brain indeed went into focus mode. Oftentimes, I started second, third, or even more sessions, as my focused brain now wanted to keep writing.

Recently, Focus Booster has changed its free plan to allow only 20 sessions a month. This limiting, and the new requirement for users to login, is sending me back to my phone timer. Still, I’m grateful to them for that green screen that so often had taken me into “the zone.” And even more grateful to Stefania for her small, doable, effective suggestion.

So what tool(s) do you use to keep yourself focused when you write?