I looked through the questions and didn't see this one so hopefully it's not a duplicate. I often have ideas of stories I want to write and I work on outlines or write down elements and I know what I need to do is actually sit down and write. It's the only way I'll actually improve. The problem is that I can't seem to concentrate enough to write. I don't have a lot of time either but I could make the time but even when I do I end up wasting it because I'm to busy worrying about other things. I've tried relaxation techniques and prescribed medication but both of these seem to take away my creativity. Is there any advice or techniques that can help me?
I wouldn't recommend medication, as it seems that the concentration issues are specific to writing and these are usually short term solutions with long-term negative effects/side-effects. But perhaps the following aspects, dealing with organization, structure, and anxiety, might help:
I'd recommend Silvia's "How to Write a Lot" (Silvia, P. J. (2007). How to Write a Lot. Washington D.C.: APA.). It's written for academic writing, but I think that most of the tips are also helpful for any kind of writing. Chapter 2 deals with "Specious Barriers to Writing a Lot":
- I can't find time to write. => Treat it like any other appointment you cannot skip, e.g., teaching, and make and defend the time. Regularity makes it count, not the pure number of hours.
- Need some more analysis first. => Treat it as part of the writing process in the allotted time.
- Need better X (computer, printer, desk). => Not necessary, "only making a schedule and sticking to it" will help.
- Waiting for Inspiration => Cites a study which has shown that inspiration is not necessary, neither for quantity nor quality. He cites Keyes with "Serious writers write, inspired or not. Over time they discover that routine is a better friend to them than inspiration."
He manages to examine these "barriers" and pretty much obliterate them -- mostly by recommending said scheduling and sticking to it. I'd try this first, because having time slot allocated for writing can really help to actually write.
It it is still an issue, for me, most of the problems with concentration while writing (i.e., if I have managed the steps above) are due to a lack of structure. Once that is clear, writing goes more or less smoothly. So, perhaps you might invest more time in the outlining process (prior to writing, including capturing ideas to have enough material to work with). For me, this step comes prior to writing, but is part of the writing process.
More about outlining here (links to my blog):
- Content Outlines: http://www.organizingcreativity.com/2012/02/how-to-create-a-content-outline-in-circus-ponies-notebook/
- Outliner Comparison Scrivener vs. CPN: http://www.organizingcreativity.com/2012/02/outliner-in-scrivener-vs-outliner-in-cpn-structure-scrivener-vs-content-cpn-outlines/
There is also the anxiety that the writing might be bad -- self-doubt is devastating here, especially if you love writing. Personally, allowing myself to be a beginner (even as an adult) has helped me -- I don't expect perfection. The good thing with writing is that you can revise your drafts, and as Lamott said (in Lamott, A. (1994). bird by bird. New York: Anchor Books. also a great book), allow yourself to write a "shitty first draft". You improve it in the second version, and make it good in the third. Take in mind that you alone decide if and when to seek feedback, and make sure that you get good feedback, i.e., feedback that actually improves your current and future work.
Try Morning Pages and/or an Artist Date. Relaxation techniques likely won't help because writing is not relaxing, it's being highly alert in an intellectual sense. Medication, in my understanding, should be used to treat an illness, so unless you actually have an illness, they won't help either. Since you are distracted by worrying about other things, try to get those things out of your system by writing Morning Pages about them – or simply allow yourself to write them down as they occur to you during writing, and then return to whatever you were going to write. Also, are you sure you know what you want to write about? An Artist Date can help you to legitimately put all other things on hold and get some clarity for what it is you really want to write. Basically, you want your writing to be so important that the things you worry about are no longer relevant and don't disturb you. This might mean you have to adress those other things first, at least the most urgent ones, so that the task next on your internal priority list is your writing.
+1 Daniel, I'm on board with that. Set an appointment and write.
If you are worrying about other things: Write about them. Write what is in your head. If you worry about them every day, write them every day. Write down all the ramifications of what you are worrying about. Of all the hundred things you are worrying about. Save them. Put them in files with good headings, like "Ten Good Reasons I Don't Want To Die", or "Why I Should Give Up Writing".
Whatever it is, commit to writing, or at least writerly tasks (like researching what exactly is in cucumber sandwiches, besides cucumbers). You will get bored with writing what you are worrying about, sooner or later (and if you aren't bored with it, at least you are having fun). Then you will be able to write a story.
If you ever cannot because you are worried: Go back to writing about that until you get it out of your system again.
My mantra that works is "Nail my butt to the chair and write."
Truly, it does not matter if it is garbage. You need to garbage in front of you, in order to improve it.
I am hitting chapter 17 of my first draft garbage, now, in revisions, and although a lot is garbage, there are a few passages I forgot I wrote that are .... damn good.
So, nail your butt to your chair (just do it) and write.