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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Is Your Writing the Victim of the Urgency Bully?

Does your writing have unexplained bumps and bruises? Does it frequently “lose” its lunch money and have to settle for the dregs of your time and attention? It is always shoved into last place in the queue?

If you habitually bounce from one urgency to another, your writing will suffer.

If you pay attention to whatever shows up in your email, Facebook, Twitter, RSS feed or lands on your desk or in your lap, you’re not even focusing on what’s urgent, you’re simply following what’s new. You become a slave to the tyranny of the immediate.

(In the previous post, I defined an emergency as something that is both urgent and important; the immediate is neither urgent nor important, but it grabs your attention anyway because it’s new. As in, in “Oh look! A bright and shiny object!”)

The Attractive Tyrant

So many of us rely on deadlines and other urgencies because they give us a shot of adrenaline. Adrenaline gives us the energy to do what needs to be done.

Adrenaline focuses our attention on the immediate task or situation, which relieves us of having to make the difficult decision about what really is important and what long-range vision we should be following.

And frankly, adrenaline feels good; so good that some people get addicted to it.

Adrenaline and its constant companion, cortisol, occur naturally in our bloodstream and serve valuable functions.

But when stress becomes our default state, these stress hormones causes a whole host of problems including, as I note in Around the Writer’s Block, “…significantly reducing fluid intelligence (a.k.a creative thinking) and impairing nearly every other cognitive function: mood, memory, learning, planning, self-control and motivation.” (read more about cortisol)

Urgency will also trigger the limbic system, which means you simply cannot do your best work. (read previous post)

Stop the Bullying

To end the bullying reign of the Urgent and the Immediate, you need to step back, ignore the bully and focus on what is important.

First thing in the morning, refuse the temptation to splinter your focus and fracture your attention with email and other electronic input. Don’t read, don’t listen to the news, don’t get caught up in the outrage du jour on TV or talk radio. Refuse to listen to other people’s agendas just for a while so you can identify your own.

Ask yourself:

  • what long-range vision am I following
  • what medium-range goals do I need to achieve to reach that vision
  • what short-term tasks do I need to do to achieve those goals
  • what is truly important today?

Of course, this assumes you know what your long-range vision is. You need to know what values you want to live by, who you want to be, and what you want to do and have in your life.

Figuring that out takes time and reflection, the kind of reflection you get when you meditate, exercise, sleep, relax and play, in other words when you practice Self-care and Process.

Please comment to share what strategies you use to keep your focus on what’s important.

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4 Comments on “Is Your Writing the Victim of the Urgency Bully?”

  1. Joel D Canfield September 12, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

    We have a small white board, about 9″ x 12″ inches leaning against the window sill by the desk.

    If it’s on that small board, it’s important. If it’s not, whatever’s on the board had better be done first.

    Scribbled notes on the desktop, ringing phone, email, and other things don’t get touched unless we know they’re related to the handful of tasks on the white board.

    And I’ve found a nifty tool called Stay Focused (a free Google Chrome addon) that lets me block sites by day and time. I’m allowed 10 minutes on Facebook during business hours. It has already become a habit to pop in when I have a minute, reply to a comment, and get out instead of lingering.


    • rosannebane September 12, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

      Thanks Joel! I like the idea of the small white board. Stay Focused looks like a great app!


  2. John McMullen September 12, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    Heh. This looks like a post on one of the ADHD blogs I read.

    By the by, I suspect that your fannishness quotient might be into the “reads text stuff” because of the Asimov reference a few days ago.



    • rosannebane September 12, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

      Hi John,
      I’m going to assume that looking like a post on one the ADHD blogs is a good thing (since you read them). I’m not sure what “reads text stuff” means as a quotient (which may reduce my fannishness quotient). But I do love Doctor Who (does that raise my quotient? and how high do I want this quotient to be?) 😉


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