I like soccer, but not in the same way my husband likes soccer. I even used to play the game and I enjoy watching it, but I’m not a fanatic. My husband is an aficionado. As you can imagine, recently he’s spent a lot of time watching the World Cup. Games were recorded so he could view the replays at night. That meant I got to watch…or listen…to two games per night since the television is in the main room of our open-layout home.
No matter what I was doing, I could hear the game. This isn’t that different than other evenings when my husband watches television, except on those nights the shows change, as do the sounds I hear. In this case, the quality of the noise stayed pretty much the same. I could hear the announcer and one constant: the crowd chanting and cheering in the background. This created a continuous hum whenever a game was on.
If nothing major was happening in the game—no shot on goal, no fabulous save by the goalie, no actual goal—the chanting became a monotonous drone. And that’s when it struck me: That could be the sound of distraction, but for the players, it was not.
Drown Out Distraction
Soccer players, and other athletes, know how to drown out the noise of the crowd. They don’t pay any attention to the chants, cat calls, cheers, or boos. They are so focused that they play well despite the noise. They are not distracted.
Many nights, I find myself quite distracted by the noise of my husband’s television watching. My office is a loft that hangs over the main room, so I have to pack up my work and find a room with a door if I want quiet and a distraction-free environment at night. (I’ve been known to put in earplugs and then put a headset on over these!)
However, daytime is harder. It’s not like I can block out the distracting hum in my ears. I’m alone in my home in the mountains, where I hear mostly nature and an occasional truck rattling down the road. Yet, there is a droning noise that sounds a lot like that chanting World Cup crowd. It comes from voices in my head telling me to check my email, social networks, book sales, and to-do list as well as to get some exercise, get a drink of water, take a break, breathe, and call my mother. This is a harder noise to block out than the television but just as real.
It’s All About Focus
We writers need to learn focus like soccer players. This is a choice. We can choose from any number of computer programs that will turn off our internet or track what we do when we turn on our computers, but in the end, we also can choose to focus on what we are doing and only on what we are doing—writing.
Those soccer players think about one thing and one thing only—getting the ball in the net. When the ball is at their feet, that’s where their attention lies. When it is somewhere else on the field, that’s where they have their eyes. When the opponent has the ball, they are focused on getting the ball back. If they lose focus for a second, the ball will be stolen from them.
Like soccer players, we need to shut out the background noise. Learn not to hear it droning on or get some earplugs! Go somewhere quiet or turn on some better background noise (try an iPod with Mozart). Focus on the screen or on the paper and the words you see there or that are forming in your mind, not on the myriad possibilities of things you could do instead.
Don’t lose focus! You will lose your writing flow. You will find yourself “dribbling” off in some other direction and ending up having to catch up with the ball. Or just as you take a shot, you’ll look up because you hear someone yelling, and you’ll miss the shot.
Try to focus so hard on your writing that you don’t notice what else is going on, that you don’t hear anything. People who have peak moments or who are in the flow report that it is quiet and things move very slowly.
My husband and kids don’t hear me speak to them when they watch television or read, for example. I wouldn’t call this a peak experience, mind you, but that’s some damn good focus. Can you write with that type of focus? I can’t, but I’d sure like to learn how!
Get Rid of the Noise
What causes distraction in your environment as you write? Is it noise, other people, your pets, or the internet? It’s time to get rid of the noise in one way or another. Eliminate it or improve your focus so you can work despite the background hum.
How have you learned to focus? Tell me in a comment?
Photo courtesy of tungphoto| freedigitalphotos.net
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