• Gaining — or Regaining — Your Focus

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in Strategies     Comments 14 comments

    A few days ago, some Twitter pundit made a crack about Bull Durham being overrated and the Durham Bulls responded by calling the pundit overrated. It was all very silly, but it kept being tweeted into my timeline, so I had to see it again and again and again.

    It reminded me that Kevin Costner keeps living out what I imagine were his boyhood fantasies of playing baseball: Bull DurhamField of Dreams, one of my guilty pleasures (and a movie that’s arguably better than the book), and the just plain godawful pile of treacle For Love of the Game.

    Whenever I think of that movie I remember a recurring theme where Costner, as an aging ex-superstar… ugh, who cares about the plot. Whenever the crowd noise is getting to him, he takes a deep breath and then shuts out the noise by saying to himself, “Clear the mechanism.” It’s just so stupid.

    But the spirit of it is something I think about a lot, especially in regards to writing: How do we clear the noise and focus?

    Noise both external and internal, both literal and figurative.

    You’re in a coffee shop trying to write but the chattering customers and the substandard piped-in music keep breaking into your brain.

    You’re at home trying to write but the chattering of your internal critic and the ticking of the clock — even if you can’t hear it! — keep breaking into your brain.

    What do you do? How do you… (gulp)… clear the mechanism?

    In other words: What are your strategies for focusing on your writing when you first sit down to do it? And if you lose focus, what are your strategies for regaining it?

    And just for fun, rank those three Kevin Costner baseball movies, with No. 1 being your favorite and No. 3 being For Love of the Game.


    WriteByNight co-founder David Duhr is copy editor and fiction editor at the Texas Observer and has written for books for the Dallas Morning News, the Iowa ReviewElectric Literature, and others.

    WriteByNight is a writers’ service dedicated to helping you achieve your creative potential and literary goals. We work with writers of all experience levels working in all genres, nationwide and worldwide. If you have a writing project you’d like help with or an idea to get off the ground, check out our coaching, editing, and publication services.


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    Dot Day

    Sometimes I practice the art of imitation. I use sentences of favorite authors and replicate them in my own words. Or look at chapter beginnings and see how they hooked me and attempt my own version. Don’t get me started on regional similes, metaphors, and hyperbole. Why, I’m plumb full to the brim of them as starting points!

    Barbara A Mealer

    Focus isn’t something I have to worry about. If I don’t want to be disturbed, I put on headphones and work, blocking out the surrounding mess. I’m one of those people who can be pulled out of what I’m doing and go back to it with minimal problems. I could be sitting in the middle of a concert and work, only attending to the band and fans if it was one of my favorite songs. For me, it’s a learned ability. I went back to nursing school when my four children were young with five other adults and three kids… Read more »

    John Liebling

    Classical music. Can’t listen to lyrics and create. Piano also disrupts my focus. Violin is the key. More specifically, almost anything played by Itzhak Perlman. I wrote almost, because Schindler’s List theme is too painful.

    Inspiration comes from Tchaikovsky violin concerto in D major op 35 or Sarasate Zigeunerweisen.

    Even Klesmer gets my creative juices flowing.

    PS: I remember about 20 years ago, when I taught in a junior/middle school. Students continually tardy to class would be punished by keeping them in the cafeteria – and forcing them to listen to Mozart, Beethoven, or Tchaikovsky.

    Elissa Malcohn

    I did a lot of journal writing on the subway (first in NYC, then in Boston), starting when I was in high school — in the days long before Walkmans, let alone laptops. Though I rarely produced drafts, much of that writing consisted of notes for when I did sit down to produce drafts. (How to write in longhand while standing up on the subway when you have enough room: plant your feet far apart, on the diagonal, and stand with your knees slightly bent; that will help you keep your balance when the train jolts. Don’t hold your notebook… Read more »

    Larry Stueck

    A glass of wine, on my deck, no music, only sounds of nature, and no one around, helps me think and write. My preferred method of writing and editing is longhand, on 81/2 X 11 yellow pad, and pen only. Once I have a strong draft, only then I use the computer.

    1. Waterworld, 2. Robin Hood, 3. Malibu Hot Summer
    Sorry. I thought you said worst Kevin Costner movies.
    Best movies (no order): McFarland, Open Range, Tin Cup.
    Costner makes only two types of films; very good or very bad.


    Can’t disagree with anything you’ve said concerning the writing; it’s what I do, too.

    Susan Hermsen

    Justin, Thank you for this blog and for inviting comments. It helps us, I think, to just remember that we do have solutions for our own problems. Sharing them helps–at least for me–remember that they’re there. I am a natural at wandering about, wasting time, drifting off….. I have just had to develop or make use of my own inner task master. I find that I focus just fine when I just decide to do it. Focus is work, but I just tell myself, “Don’t be lazy. Do it.” Once I switch from my current comfort zone to my work… Read more »

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