“Resolve to do each job in a relaxed way, with all your attention.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Master
There’s a wonderful story I once read about a cartoonist who had to produce a new cartoon and caption every day. His son remembered coming into the house each afternoon and seeing his dad asleep on the couch. At some point, his father would spring up, go to his desk, and dash off the day’s artwork. The boy was mystified by this process. He could never figure out whether his father literally fell asleep and dreamed the cartoon he needed or stayed awake and conjured it up.
Another story: Alan Sorkin, the screenwriter who penned the movie Social Media, told an interviewer that whenever he would hit a snag in the script — and there were many — he would jump in the shower to clear his head. Somehow this seemed to help. Guess what! I’m writing this post after hopping into the shower myself — let’s hope it works for me, too.
Relaxed attention: It’s so important when writing, but ironically, it can be so hard to achieve. Right now, I’m in the final stages of revising my YA novel before giving it to a few trusted readers to review from stem to stern. I’ve been waffling about a few sections in several chapters, trying to figure out where to place them in the flow of my story. It’s tough to stay relaxed about it, because I’m really working hard to pull together a polished draft and I’m not totally happy with the way I’ve been handling this rough patch. I keep trying this and trying that. Staying focused and not losing my train of thought is a real challenge.
Relaxed attention is what I need right now. That’s why, when I hit a snag today, I decided to take a mental health break and go for a walk with my four-legged assistant, Ryder. He was snoozing contentedly in my office, but I roused him and we went for a jaunt. The sun was shining, the leaves were waving at me from the trees, the breeze was soft and balmy: It felt more like April than November — and it was great to be out.
When we came back, I was able to sit down at my desk with fresh attention to the problem at hand. I came up with a new approach and suddenly, I was off and running again. Who knows? Tomorrow, I may have a better idea. But I was able to wrap up today’s writing session feeling that I’d made progress, instead of feeling frustrated. Sometimes the only way to give relaxed attention to your work is to take a break, refresh yourself, and then pick up where you left off.