In the previous post, I promised that you can train your brain to follow two simple commands that will transform your writing no matter how resistant you are. The first was Sit-Stay. The second is:
To a dog, Pay Attention means “look at me, make eye contact with me” (which is why some people use “Look at me” or just “Look” as the command).
To the dog it means “Give me all your attention and focus. Don’t look at the strange dog in the park, don’t look at the squirrel, don’t even look at the food on the ground, look at me.”
To a writer, Pay Attention means “Give all your attention and focus to your writing. Don’t look at email/Twitter/Facebook/etc., don’t look at the dust on the bookcase or the dirty dishes, don’t even think about the people who depend on you to make their lives secure and comfortable.”
When you train a dog to pay attention, you hold a treat to your face, just above your eyes. When the dog makes eye contact, you give verbal reinforcement (“Good pay attention” or “Good look at me”), then you give her the treat.
Eventually, you stop using the treat to lure the dog’s eyes toward yours, though you still use the hand signal (fingers to eyes) and give the reward.
If you want a dog to confidently look you in the eyes and give you her attention, you need to be the source of good things: praise, approval, affection, good touch, toys, treats and unconditional love.
Seriously, how well do you think a dog can attend to a person who is critical, mean, harsh, angry and never sees any small behavior worthy of praise or reward? Any attention will be the ‘stay out of his way’ variety, not the confident and expectant gaze you want from a dog you’re partnering with.
Likewise, if you want to be able to confidently focus on your writing, your writing needs to be the source and the recipient of good things: self-approval, praise, affection, treats, other rewards, even unconditional love.
Of course, your writing is going to be criticized or rejected by some people if you send it out in the world, but you have to love it. Even though you know you can continue to improve the writing, you must always appreciate what’s good about it in its current state as well as its potential. You need to approve of your own efforts and enjoy the thrill in discovery. If you don’t, why bother?
Easier for a Dog
Pay Attention is a great deal more challenging for the writer than the dog. The dog knows what to pay attention to: the person who gave the command. So the dog can give absolute attention.
But the writer has to discern what to pay attention to. You need a softer focus. Today, Pay Attention might mean attending to book you’re researching or the person you’re interviewing. Tomorrow, the best way to pay attention might be to go for a walk or sit and stare out the window so you can entertain the ideas and images flickering through your mind.
So How Do You Know?
Decide in advance what you’ll focus on during your Product Time, that is, in the time when you Sit-Stay and Pay Attention to your writing. If you can’t decide, number your choices and use dice or a random number generator (Google or Bing can find one for you) to select one activity or idea to attend to.
Don’t worry if you pick the “wrong” focus; you can change it tomorrow. But once you’ve picked today’s focus activity, don’t second guess yourself. So what if you “should have” picked something else to focus on? You’re only committed for 15 minutes.
You can’t tell in the moment whether you’ve made a mistake or taken a step in a brilliant new direction. You might not know for days or weeks that what seemed like a waste of time is really the seed of something spectacular.
Trial and error is essential to creative discovery. All the “missteps” are essential; you can’t take journey without them. If you always knew exactly where you were going and how to get there, it wouldn’t be a journey of creative discovery.
Simple But Not Easy
I promised you two simple commands to transform your writing resistance. I never said they would be easy. But practice brings mastery, so Sit-Stay and Pay Attention!