I’ve been a freelance writer and editor since I was 21 years old — over a decade now. In that time I’ve edited hundreds of manuscripts, written 20-some books, and indie published more than 30 titles. The most common question people ask me is “How?”
One word: FOCUS.
I’ve tried to make an art form out of not distracting myself. Studies are showing that the human brain is not meant to multitask. We try and we feel like we’re getting things done because it’s all happening at once, but what we’re actually doing is wading through wet concrete instead of waiting for it to dry so we can just go speeding across the surface. (I wrote that analogy while really tired; just work with me here.)
For an ADD brain like mine, focus is especially precious and especially hard to come by, but when we manage to latch on, our superpower kicks in: HYPERfocus, the warp speed of the freelance life. If you have ADD friends and you can literally wave a hand in front of their face without getting a reaction while they are focused on something (the television, the computer, whatever), you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Hyperfocus is good, and so I do everything I can to induce it: headphones in, nondistracting music playing, routine intact, plans made ahead of time. Everything in place so I can just put my head down and power through the task before me.
I manage this for a while and feel like a freelancing powerhouse: editing manuscripts, writing books and blog posts, doing promo, even working out now and again. Oooooh yeah.
But then two things happen.
I get tired.
And/or I get bored.
When I’m tired, it’s hard to focus. When the work in front of me is boring me, it’s hard to focus.
Enter the Internet.
True confession: I have spent entire DAYS flitting from one website to another, reading comics archives and movie news, accomplishing exactly nothing, telling myself I’ll get to work in just a minute and somehow catch up on the hours that are dropping behind me.
This is all based in a lie: my brain says if I just kick back for an hour on the ‘nets, I’ll feel rested. Turns out web surfing is physically and mentally exhausting. Remember: the human brain is not meant to multitask.
I’ve written about the never-ending cocktail party of the Internet before.* I really do try to walk away from it. For a time I even manage.
But then tired, bored, the Internet, and I almost ruin my life.
I know that’s extreme. But life isn’t something that will happen tomorrow, or a year from now, it’s what I’m actually living right now.
I will GUARANTEE that on my death bed, I’m not gonna look back and wish I’d spent more time on the Internet.
(I was sort of on my death bed once, and trust me, “I should have been more active on social media” did not even cross my mind.)
And seriously, what would happen if I just gave in to tired and bored and the Internet on a regular basis? My income would plummet. My clients would get mad when I blew through all their deadlines and find someone else. You would never get to read the final book in The Prophet Trilogy. My brain would be so fried I would lose my ability to pray or study or do anything else I really enjoy, and web surfing doesn’t do much for muscle tone either.
My point is that this small thing — losing focus and surfing the Internet because I’m tired or disinterested — actually does have the potential to ruin my life. It won’t while it stays in balance. But it COULD.
Thankfully, there is grace for us puny humans. No matter badly off track I get, no matter how much time I waste, no matter how much damage I do to the synpases in my brain, I’m always allowed to start over tomorrow.
I don’t have to be stuck. I can change.
And I do. Because even though I have days like the above on a semiregular basis — I probably blow at least one complete day a month — I’ve still managed to do all that stuff I listed in the first paragraph.
Of course, changing takes perspective. It means going back to my goals and asking what I want out of life, what I want to accomplish, and what I would actually want my days to look like. It takes reminding myself that I am a child of God and a servant of the kingdom, not a purposeless drifter in Internet Land. It takes deliberately saying “so long” to the cocktail party and rebuilding connections in my brain that will allow me to focus on long-form things, like prayer and deep thought and books.
(Yes, you really do have to rebuild connections that are really damaged. See the multitasking research linked to above.)
It takes grace too. If I can’t give myself grace, I won’t move forward. I’ll just beat myself into the ground and end up even more discouraged and tired and lost.
Take this as a confession: I frequently almost ruin my life.
Thankfully, God just keeps giving me a hand back up. I can take it. I can change.
And on my death bed, I can look back on a life that — in the long run — was well lived.
*This article used to be at the now-defunct blog for Women Alive. It’s now up here on Adventures in the Kingdom.