Has this ever happened to you: You are working away on one writing project and suddenly another one crops up and you become entranced with its potential? It becomes a “bright, shiny thing” and you begin chasing it — gathering information at a brisk clip until you feel overwhelmed? Not only overwhelmed, but distracted from the work you should really be focusing on? If so, then you know how overburdened and off-balance you can feel — like you’ve lost your moorings and your focus.
Why do we let this happen — lose our let ourselves be sidetracked? I’m pondering this question, because it just happened to me and I’m having a hard time getting myself back on an even keel. At least part of the answer seems to lie in the “thrill of the chase” — it’s fun
to be in research mode at the start a potential project — like a squirrel gathering nuts, you find yourself just running here and there, pulling together pieces of a puzzle. It’s exciting and alluring. It’s also a lot easier than doing the heavy lifting of writing and revising.
What to do, what to do? When we feel overwhelmed by the potential of a new project while in the middle of an unfinished one, how can we regain our focus? A few ideas:
Reignite the passion for completion: Sometimes we get distracted because we’re close to completing our primary project, it’s getting a little scary, so we start chasing something else. I know I’ve done this. When this happens, the only way out is through: bringing ourselves back to the main event through sheer grit. We have to fight through to completion with will power and grit.
Stop gathering information: Chasing more and more information just makes us feel overburdened. Being in research mode can be fun in its early phase, but as nonfiction writers can attest, it quickly becomes a rabbit hole you can fall down. So stop — at least for now. You can always revisit and add more when your first project is done.
Put it all in a “box” and put it away: This is a wonderful trick that Twyla Tharp uses (see Cultivating Craft). When she’s exploring a new dance project, she starts gathering ideas
and information and puts it all in a box. When she feels she has enough to make something happen, she pulls out the box and ferrets through it. A box — whether it’s a literal box, file folders in a drawer, or a document on your computer — both preserves all you’ve gathered for future reference and contains it, so it doesn’t run wild.
How do you keep yourself on track when some “bright, shiny object” distracts you? I’d love to hear any techniques that work for you as we all write on.