Multi-tasking versus one task.
It comes easily to me. After years of working on several things at once or fitting a project into all the other responsibilities (‘Writing is what I do between the ironing.” Alice Munro) I can work on several songs at a time while moving houses. I can work on a story plot between planning out a new Women’s Music Weekend. Even this blog was updated while I waited to ‘shell out’ to neighborhood kids and then later while I watched my grandchildren sort out their Halloween loot.
What hasn’t come naturally, or what I’ve never had the chance to do, is spend four weeks of undisturbed focus on one project. Having all the time in the world to just write was like a dream. And even when I had no responsibilities it was hard to shut out the world and just work.
Four weeks doing one-thing.
This year I finally carved out four weeks for myself, twice. I put everything else aside. I declared a goal and gave myself a terrible consequence if I didn’t accomplish it.
The first time was July. I had several partial manuscripts and outlines sitting in my computer and was traveling in Europe. I found a quiet remote olive farm in Tuscany and worked on one manuscript each week with the goal of bringing it to the point of ‘final first draft’. If I was successful I could carry on traveling. If I failed, I had to go home and back to normality. Thankfully I was successful, reached my goal and still had time to enjoy the miraculous countryside surrounding me.
This time, the past four weeks of October, I had a fierce goal – I needed to make a decision about a manuscript I’d been working on for three years. The book wasn’t working but I couldn’t figure out why. I needed time alone with no distractions. I needed to face the problems head on. I was either going to say, ‘Yes, I want to move forward to the next stage and publish’, or ‘No, leave it, it’s time move on to the next book.’ It was all or nothing, there would either be a story in there or there would not.
I’m happy to report my four week writing challenge was a success. I found my answer. Which is, of course, yes, I have a story, of course, that I want to share. As much as I told myself I was ready to let it go, I wasn’t really. There was no way I was going to give in to some ‘bump in the road’ no matter how major. I’ve raised three children. I’m stubborn. There was no way I was going to give in. But I guess I needed to tell myself that there was a chance I might have to give up, admit defeat, and talk myself into some justification for the past three years, something like, “it was all good learning.’ Ack.
I’m happy the book is working now. I can stand behind it. I can move forward. I don’t know if I will recommend for anyone that they put this on their bucket list – Spend 4 weeks alone with My Project. But I will say it’s a great way to see what you’re capable of. Which is always miraculous feats if you just give yourself permission.
If I ever feel the need to focus on one project in the future here is what I’ll change:
I’ll go for a walk every day.
I’ll drink water in the morning before coffee.
When I’m on my yoga mat, I won’t think about the scene I’m working on. I’ll be in empty mind.
I’ll dance when I feel like dancing.
I’ll sleep when I feel like sleeping.
I won’t ignore new projects when they come to mind, and write them down to make sure I have a record.
I’ll hang out with friends whenever I need to get out of my own head.
I won’t worry about whether I succeed at whatever goal I set for myself when I begin. It’s OK to fail.
I won’t report daily on social media – it is way too big a distraction. Report once at the beginning of the project and once at the end if I think it’s a good idea to share.
I’ll remember to be grateful every day, not just when I think of it. Schedule in a daily gratitude moment.
Otherwise, I wouldn’t change a thing. Well – maybe the location.
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